On occasion the boob tube rises above its nickname, and one of those times was last New Year's Eve. You had to be dead not to be thrilled at watching the new millennium dawn with celebrations beginning way out in the Pacific and advancing westward on the hour. Ours is the first generation in human history able to witness a new century inaugurated by a progression of lavish celebrations in Sydney, Paris, London and other great cities of the world, as each time zone gave up the old. This is television at its best.
At each venue along the way, reporters punctuated the fireworks with the terrific news that no significant Y2K problems had turned up anywhere. For everyone except the survivalists who are still dining on canned Spam, it was reason to jump for joy.
Except the champagne glasses had hardly been put away when the news media began putting a new spin on the issue. Why did U.S. businesses and government agencies spend an estimated $100 billion to fix problems that apparently did not exist?
At first, most commentators paid lip service to the notion that it's precisely because we spent so much money that 2000 dawned almost trouble-free. But as the calendar advanced into January, carping began to push out such charitable assessments. Noting that Y2K bugs were largely absent even in underdeveloped nations whose computer systems were thought to be more susceptible than ours, journalists changed their tune to, "What a waste of money! Let's play the blame game."
I've come to expect as much from my cousins in the consumer media. Theirs is a mindset such that, if world peace truly were to ever come about, headlines would gripe about it taking so long and the wealthy benefiting so much more than the poor. A sensible person merely shrugs and makes his way to the comics. Not so easy, though, when gall rises high enough to upset the serenity of a Tibetan monk.
Naderism and Its LegacyWhose name should appear as the author of an op-ed commentary about Y2K but Ralph Nader, whom the media anoints as the father of modern consumerism, but who would more appropriately be described as the patron saint of product liability litigation. The gist of St. Nader's commentary in theChicago Tribuneand presumably other publications was that the captains of the computer industry should have foreseen Y2K problems long ago, and since they didn't, they should be responsible for the estimated $100 billion in Y2K compliance costs.
At one level it was merely another variation on the stale theme of let's sock it to those lousy, stinkin', greedy corporations. But this version had a cheekiness about it that transcends ideology.
Top honors for the most demented approach to economic justice surely must go to Stalin, who used to bill his victims' families for the cost of the bullets used in their executions. Nader's logic does not quite reach the same degree of evil, but does belong to the same genre of cynicism.
The stock in trade of modern litigators is 20-20 hindsight. In their bizarre logic, anything we now know about technology, medicine or anything else that impacts the human condition is prima facie evidence that it should have been known before. Never mind that early computer programmers had their hands full trying to cram code into what by today's standards were tiny memory cells. In the gospel according to Nader, they were obligated to peer decades into the future to foretell every possible ramification of clipping digits off dates. Of course, problems also could have been nipped in the bud if only the Naderites had had similar Swami-like prescience to issue warnings back then, but what the heck, theirs is a game of perpetual offense. It's against the rules to hold them to the same standards they hold everyone else.
If there are to be any bills submitted to recoup that $100 billion, the debtors should be none other than Nader and his class action minions. Over the past few years quite a few people whispered that we were overreacting to the Y2K threat. But overkill is the legacy of Naderism. By now every person in every walk of life understands that failure to indulge in it leaves one vulnerable to subsequent litigation. This is why doctors call for excessive tests that send health care premiums to the sky, and why the paperwork on modern construction projects may outweigh the concrete and steel. Moreover, you can bet every last dollar that had the Y2K bug bitten any harder than it did, the Naderites of the world would have been spanking our business and government leaders for not spending more than $100 billion to fix things.
Thankfully, people seem to be paying no more attention to the carpers than they are to the political campaign babble filling the news. For now life seems back to normal.
Still, one can't help but sputter at the likes of Ralph Nader preaching against Y2K overspending. What's next, a lecture from our President on the virtue of celibacy?