If you don’t remember, that was the nickname for what was seen as a potentially catastrophic worldwide computer problem.
Early computers only used two digits to indicate the year. Then one day, the experts started worrying about what would happen when the millennium flipped over, and we reached the year double-zero.
What if all our computer-operated institutions broke down? What if the robots in our auto factories went haywire, and Lansing dated all the state tax refunds 1900? We managed to scare ourselves half to death, with a giant assist from the media. In the end, nothing much happened, apart from a few tiny glitches.
Everyone had long since forgotten about Y2K by the time the real defining moment of the decade occurred less than two years later. Nobody predicted Sept. 11, 2001. Nobody now can predict when we will finally move beyond its aftereffects.
Yet it is worthwhile going back ten years, a period of time that can seem like both the blink of an eye and an eternity, to look at what has become of the State of Michigan in the decade gone by.
Ten years ago, our unemployment rate was an astonishingly low 4.1 percent - below the national average. Today, that figure is 14.7 percent, more than three times as high. Michigan has the highest jobless rate in the nation, as it has had for months.
Ford Motor Company was rolling in dough. So much cash, in fact, that it bought Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover for what turned out to be far more than those franchises were worth. General Motors was also swimming in profits; it had more revenues than any other company in the world. For awhile in 1999, it was viewed as the hottest stock on Wall Street.
Today, all that seems hard to believe, thanks to the near collapse of the domestic auto industry. Ten years ago, Michigan was the 18th highest state in terms of per capita income.
We’ve fallen to 37th now, meaning we are poorer than exactly two-thirds of the other states. We’re facing another grim year in Lansing, though things seem to have stabilized for the moment.
There’s general agreement that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Our core industry has shriveled, and our state government has two major problems. First, it doesn’t seem to work very well, as last year’s year-long squabbles over the state budget show. Second, our present system doesn’t generate enough money to pay for what we want government to do.
What this means is that we need major structural reform, and we need it now. This is an election year, and we’ll be voting to fill every political job in Lansing. You’ll see a lot of campaign rhetoric, and more bickering over this year’s budget.
But what we need most is for our leaders to try to fix the deep-seated flaws in our system, if we have any hope for a prosperous future. I’ll be watching all year to see if they actually do this.
And most of all, I hope you will be watching too.