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IP: Worth Reading: Fwd from Gary North: Y2K

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Worth Reading: Fwd from Gary North: Y2K
Date: Mon, 05 Oct 1998 09:46:30 -0500
To: [email protected]

Forwarded from Gary North:

     By now you know my concern over the Year 2000 Problem: the
collapse of the division of labor.  As Leonard Read wrote in "I,
Pencil," no one knows how to make a pencil.  It's too
complicated: cut wood, carbon, paint, rubber, metal.  A pencil
can exist only because the division of labor exists.  But if a
pencil is too difficult to make, what about replacement parts for
a dam? What about an automobile?

     But could this really happen?  Wrong question: How will this
not happen?  There is not one compliant bank on earth, not one
compliant public utility, not one compliant industry.  Yet we
have only 15 months to go.  And in between now and then,
worldwide panic will hit, making code-correction very difficult.
Also, the latest estimate of embedded chips is 70 billion.  The
latest estimated failure rate for embedded systems is 10% to 20%.

     All of our management systems rely on mainframe computers.
The people who ran the pre-computer management systems in 1965
have been fired or have retired.  The knowledge they had went
with them.  They were replaced by digital idiot savants.  These
idiot savants are not flexible.  Dustin Hoffman's character in
Rainman was a model of flexibility compared to a computer.
Computers do exactly what they were programmed to do.  They do
not listen to reason.  They do not hear your screams.  Their
attitude is best expressed by Rhett Butler as he walked away from
Scarlett for the last time.

     Look ahead.  It's Friday, January 14, 2000.  You are
standing in front of a bank teller.  You have stood in line for
three hours.  There is a line of 200 people behind you.  You have
your bank statement from last month.  It says you have $4,517.22
in your checking account.  But your checks have all bounced:
"Account closed."  Every account is automatically closed after
two years of no activity, and your account had no activity from
1/1/1900 (00) to 1/1/1902 (02).  Now you want your bounced checks
cleared.  The teller says, "I'm sorry.  Our computer shows the
account is closed."  "Well, then, re-open it."  "Are you making a
deposit?"  "No."  "Then I can't re-open it."  Problem: you now
have no money.  The account is closed.  Your printed records are
for last month.  Maybe you spent all that money on Christmas.
She has no idea.  "I am not authorized to give you cash."  (Well,
maybe $200, by government decree.)  What are you going to do?  It
will take many months to fix this for every depositor on earth.
The banks will not survive for weeks.

     She has no authority to veto the computer.  Nobody does.
There is no alternative management system in place that will
enable a bank's employees to fix the accounts and clear all
checks and credit card transactions.  All banks must stop
accepting checks and credit card accounts until there is a way to
clear the accounts.  There is no way.  Their management systems
must be redesigned to go back to 1965, all over the world: a
paper and ink system.  But there is no time to do this.  This
would take years even if all the banks stayed up.  But they will
all go down.  Any bank that is forced out of the capital markets
for a week will go bankrupt -- two weeks, for sure.  But if they
are all out of the capital markets, there will be no capital
markets.  That means Western civilization will shut down:
"Account closed."

     "Our computer is down."  These four words may kill you.
Literally.  If you do not have financial reserves that are not
electronic, these four words will strip you of your ability to
buy and sell.  And not just you: everyone.  The division of labor
will collapse.

     How will society produce a pencil?  Or repair parts for a
power generation plant?

     Think ahead.  Sit down with a pen and paper.  (It's good
practice for the future.)  Think of every situation in which your
life would be disrupted by the words, "Our computer is down."  If
you could not get your immediate problem solved because of these
for words, for just 60 consecutive days, what would happen to
you?  Think this through.

     Which local systems are threatened?  Here is a preliminary
list: banks, paychecks, supermarkets, drug stores (all
prescriptions on computer), the water/sewer company, the electric
utility, telephone service.  If you lack imagination here, rent
The Trigger Effect.

     Now let's move outward toward local emergency institutions.
Think of the another missing 9 and two more 1's: 9-1-1.  The
police, the fire department, hospitals, ambulances.  The phones
may or may not be down, but 911 switchboards are only rarely
compliant today.

     Now let's move farther outward into the world of capital:
money market fund, mutual fund, pension fund, bond fund,
insurance, second mortgages, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid,
IRS refunds.  You just lost your retirement money.  If your home
burns down, you'll not get a replacement unless you have gold
coins or cash to buy a used one.  If you die, your wife will get
nothing that isn't close at hand, i.e., in hand.

     "Our computer is down."  This phrase will serve nicely as an
epitaph for our civilization.  Only if the computers don't go
down, and also don't make bad calculations, can the West avoid
this epitaph.  But if they are not fixed, they will go down or go


     I have been writing for over a year on this with all the
skill I have.  I simply cannot get it across to all of you, or
even to most of you.  I am never at a loss for words, but I am at
a loss for persuasion.  I have been unable to persuade the vast
majority of my readers, after almost two years, that if the
division of labor collapses, we will lose millions of lives.  Joe
Boivin, who was the y2k director for Canada's Imperial Bank and
Commerce until he quit, estimates that a billion people will die
in 2000.  He limits his discussion to the third world.  I think
we could lose half a billion in the urban West.

     Unthinkable?  All right, show me how any large city will
survive if the power goes off for 60 days, all railroad
deliveries of grain and coal stop, all gasoline station pumps
shut down, and there are no banks.  Go on.  I'm serious.  Sit
down and outline a scenario that will keep an urban population
alive without mainframe computers.

     The army?  There are 120 U.S. cities that the government has
targeted as vulnerable to cyberwarfare.  There are 1.4 million
people in the entire U.S. military.  Few have any training for
riot control and food delivery.  The government cannot provide
such training without creating a panic.  The military is
dependent on the civilian communications system.  How will 1.4
million untrained military personnel -- including the Navy --
police a destitute population of 60 million urban residents, not
counting the suburbs?  That's 11,666 people per city.  But the
large cities will get the lion's share.  What about where you
live?  The bands of arsonists and rioters are loose in your city.
What will your police do?  I'll tell you: they will stay home if
they are not being paid.  And if the banks are down, they will
not be paid.

     I know what you're thinking.  "They just can't let this
happen."  What can "they" do to stop it?  The United States is
short 500,000 to 700,000 mainframe programmers.

     Roberto Vacca wrote The Coming Dark Age in 1973.  He did not
forecast y2k.  If he had, the book would have been far more
persuasive.  His point was that our technology has extended
beyond what we can understand.  I was not impressed because that
is true of the free market at all times.  This is the genius of
the free market.  No one understands all of the interconnections,
yet we prosper.  So, I dismissed the book's thesis.  What I did
not see, and he did not see, was y2k.  We have transferred to
digital idiot savants all authority to make decisions that men
found either too boring or too complex to make.  We removed this
decision-making authority from people and delegated it to


     It's time to talk theology.  Cornelius Van Til argued that
men must think God's thoughts after Him -- analogically.  God is
a person.  He's also three persons.  We are persons.  Our
universe reflects God's personality.  We don't live in an
impersonal world.  The biblical doctrine of the creation forces
us to accept the doctrine of cosmic personalism.

     Modern computers do not think.  They count.  But modern man
since the Renaissance has believed that number, not God's written
revelation, is the touchstone of truth.  He has believed that
mankind's inability to comprehend (surround mentally) the
infinitely complex universe can be compensated for.  Man can use
numerical formulas to substitute for omniscience.  He can take a
shortcut to omniscience.  He can develop numerical formulas that
allow him to control the external world, which is controlled by
number.  Why a capacity of the mind -- numerical coherence --
should also control the external realm is a great mystery.  In
fact, as Nobel Prize physicist Eugene Wigner said in a 1960
essay, the effectiveness of number in science is unreasonable.
But it does work within creation's limits.

     Men have sought numerical shortcuts to cosmic knowledge and
cosmic power.  They have found many shortcuts, and on these
shortcuts modern science rests.  But then, in the 1950's,
programmers took another shortcut -- a digital shortcut.  They
saved two holes out of 80 in IBM punch cards.  This seemingly
minor shortcut has brought society to the brink of destruction.
We are not lemmings rushing to destruction.  We are sheep being
driven toward a cliff by idiot savants, to whom we have delegated
control over our affairs.

     Man worships science and its shortcuts.  He worships the
creations made by his own hands and  mind.  We will soon find
that such idolatry is always deadly.  Modern man thinks he has
shoved God out of the universe.  He has used Darwinism and a
theory of vast cosmic impersonal time to remove Him from man's
newly acquired domain.  Natural selection has replaced God's
purpose.  Cosmic time has replaced the six-day creation.  But now
we face the institutional monstrosity of the digital
impersonalism of the idiot savants.  Computers can count.  Can
they ever count!  But the dates they use after '99 will be wrong.

                       WHAT WILL YOU DO?

     You should now have a list of services and goods that will
no longer be provided if the computers go down.  It's a long
list.  You need a second list.  What items must you buy now that
can substitute for these lost services?  You can't afford to buy
them all.  There will be a panic to buy such goods next year.  It
has already begun (e.g., Chinese diesel generators).  Where will
you get the fuel for a generator?  Electricity for a well pump?
Propane for a cook stove?  Heat in the winter?  Think of Montreal
last January.

     But will the computers go down?  Senator Robert Bennett said
it well on July 14 at a National Press Club speech.  If 2000 were
the next day, this civilization might collapse.   But, he said,
we can save it between July 15 and Jan. 1, 2000.  To which I
reply: How?  What is being done, worldwide, to avoid the death of
the computers?  Not just in the U.S. -- worldwide?  Almost
nothing.  There are not enough skilled programmers.

     I suppose you get tired of reading about this.  I am surely
tired of writing it.  But until I can no longer mail this
newsletter, or until all the computers are fixed in late 1999, I
will continue to nag you . . . not to death -- to life.  As it
stands today, if tomorrow were 2000, we would see the end of
this civilization in 60 days.  If you think I'm wrong, jot down
those life-support systems that are 2000- compliant today.  It's
an empty list.  How will we get from empty to fixed, worldwide,
in the next 15 months?  This is not a trick question.  It's a
life-and-death question.  Do you have an answer and a contingency
plan?  Don't wait for leadership on this matter.  Leaders are in
y2k denial.  You must lead.  If you won't, who will?  You are
responsible for you.  What will you do?  How soon?


Gary North

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