I thought it might soothe some frazzled nerves to compare the current Y2K hoopla with a similar scare that permeated our society 1,000 years ago — the famous “Y1K scare.” The cause of that uproar was the Biblical predictions contained in the book of Revelation which seemed to foretell the demise of the world on 1/1/1000. The last day of 999 turned out to be one of the biggest non-events of the millennium.
There was no great earthquake and the sun did not turn black like sackcloth and the moon did not turn blood red. No stars fell from the sky. The doomsayers were dumbstruck. Numerous events were cited as proof that Armageddon was at hand — sitings of beached whales and meteors among the most prominent. The recent invasion by the heathen Hungarians was interpreted as prophetic fulfillment of apocalyptic annihilation.
In an early attempt at “historical revisionism,” some scholars reset the time for catastrophe at 1033, the millennium of Christ’s death, rather than the millennium of his birth. But alas, that prediction proved unfounded as well.
Just as today, not everyone was dreading the end of the millennium. Many people, lacking education, didn’t have any idea what year it was or why it might be significant. Survival concerns overrode philosophical issues. Others took the occasion very seriously. Roman Emperor Otto II spent two weeks in a hermit’s cell in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome getting ready for the happening. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem became especially popular.
Outside of Christian Europe people wondered what the fuss was all about. The millennium wasn’t a big deal elsewhere because, well, it wasn’t a millennium elsewhere. It was the year of gengzi in China, year 10.8.12.5.0 on the Mayan calendar and 4760 on the Jewish calendar.
To place all this in historical perspective, there were other goings-on of significance in the world in 999. Leif Ericsson disclosed plans to sail to Greenland, the island colonized by his father, Erik the Red. The Vikings announced substantial profits from their Slavic slave trade. Horseshoe prices rose in Europe to the point that a shod horse was worth twice as much as a barefoot horse.
Of possible interest to our economic development community, plundering one’s neighbor was considered a viable short-term economic stimulus measure. However, as a long-term strategy, plundering was considered risky. The Chinese, Islamic and Byzantine empires were already building diversified economies based on enterprise and ingenuity. Their manufacturers were improving production processes to increase efficiency. Their farmers were finding ways to boost crop yield. Their merchants were sailing the major trade routes to faraway places.
Other areas were not as progressive. Western Europe stumbled along in a sorry state. The English, the Franks, and the Germans were stuck in the past. Plunder and conquest were still considered superior economic development strategies.
Will our Y2K fears prove a reality or a fluke? Who knows. Though I doubt the moon will turn blood red, it does seem prudent to pay some attention to the issue. Reports indicate that large businesses and governmental entities are taking the anticipated computer glitch seriously while small businesses, by and large, are not. Prevention is better than reacting to catastrophe.
A little preventive maintenance might include gathering the management team together and discussing what might possibly go wrong on 1/1/2000. Accounting systems? Telephone systems? Security systems?
THOUGH FOR THE MOMENT
When a Master was asked, “What is the way?” he answered, “It is right in front of your nose!” “Then how come I can’t see it?” “Your Me is in the way.”
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.