Straight Dope July 18 2009

What’s the final word about Y2K? We were told this was a serious problem, and that huge dollars and man-hours were needed to head off trouble. Why didn’t the sky fall, as predicted? Were the dollars spent before January 1, 2000, well spent or not? The date change seemed seamless to a layman. Was this because we headed off most of the trouble before it happened, or because it wasn’t as serious as predicted?

— Paul Wheeler

One may inquire: Why am I answering this now? Because the question keeps coming in, and at some point you have to ask, if I don’t take it on, who will? So here’s the best answer you’re likely to get: 1) While the true extent of Y2K issues will never be known, what we do know suggests the problem was wildly exaggerated. In retrospect, it would have been smarter to focus resources on a few truly high-risk areas, wait till 1/1/2000 for everything else, and fix what broke. Looked at in that light, the money spent on remediation, estimated at between $100 billion and $600 billion, was mostly wasted. 2) That’s hindsight talking. To put things in perspective (I realize the argument cuts both ways) many now say the world as we know it is going to end due to global warming. You think the smart choice is to say “relax”?

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(Illustration by Slug Signorino)