No Computer Is an Island

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The good news? Wall Street's bullish about its efforts to become Y2K-compliant by the end of the millennium. Oh, sure, everyone admits some computer glitches will happen, but financial firms promise they'll have exterminated the major infestations in time. The bad news? The rest of the world isn't going to be ready, and they're going to drag us down with them. Such was the tone of the second-ever meeting of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem Monday.

As Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the panel's chairman, put it in his opening statement, "International Year 2000 preparedness presents a significant wild card. The United States' financial services industry... has yet to fully consider and plan for the possible consequences if there are widespread systems failures overseas."

It seems inevitable that investors worldwide will shift their assets to countries and currencies known to be dealing with the problem aggressively. This scenario has been compared to the oil crisis of the '70s, in which vast sums of cash were rapidly shifted from the West into the bank accounts of sheiks. One crucial difference this time around: Those vast sums are rapidly shifting into the hands of COBOL programmers and Y2K consultants. At least it isn't making Bill Gates any richer.