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Eleven years ago, the world was in a bit of a tizzy over
the prospects of the calendar turning from 1999 to 2000. Predictions littered
the landscape of a major technology meltdown that resulted from chips in
computers somehow finding themselves baffled as the old century gave way to the
Business folk loaded up on stuff that enabled them to
back-up their data. Consumers, worried the year switch might result in the
meltdown of the municipal power grids, stocked up on flashlights, foodstuffs,
and portable electric generators.
Doing my own part, I decided to prepare for the Y2K
meltdown by avoiding my laptop for the month and instead pecking out my writing
on a 1916 portable Corona typewriter. My findings? Slower writing, but fewer
interruptions . . . essentially a wash.
But questions linger for many about how some people
prepped in the wake of the hype and fear and dire predictions about the
collapse of industries and services.
A reader in Ohio is still wondering about the actions a
family member took to gird his loins against the ravages of Y2K. "Fear led
my brother-in-law to take actions I considered unethical," he writes.
A few weeks before 2000 hit, the brother-in-law bought a
portable generator from a local merchant. He made the purchase knowing that the
merchant had a 30-day return, full-refund policy. His plan was to keep the
generator in its box unopened and then return it for a full refund if he hadn't
needed to use it.
A week after 1999 gave way to 2000 without incident, the
brother-in-law returned the generator and received a full refund.
"I told him his actions were unethical because he
bought the generator in bad faith," my reader writes. "Moreover, he
denied the merchant the opportunity to sell the generator to a legitimate
My reader asks: "Was his behavior ethical? I say
If the merchant offered a 30-day return, full-refund
policy, the brother-in-law did not do anything wrong. Just like his customers,
the merchant knew that Y2K was upon him and that there might be some folks who
would load up on stuff only to return it after the year turned, they didn't
need the stuff, and they were still within the 30-day period. If the merchant
didn't want to risk such returns, he could have changed his policy.
The brother-in-law's actions are decidedly different from
the practice of purchasing, say, an expensive item of clothing, wearing it
once, but leaving the label on so the item can be returned the next day. In
such a case, the item is used and the customer is trying to disguise this fact
to get a full refund. The brother-in-law, however, never opened the item and
therefore could return it under the agreed-upon policy with absolutely no
My reader questions whether his brother-in-law's intent
changes the situation. No more than the intent of the merchant in not changing
his return policy during the 30 days leading up to Y2K. Perhaps the merchant
thought the risk of getting returns was worth it since some of his customers
might decide to hold onto their purchases even when Y2K-ageddon never struck.
It doesn't matter. What matters is that the customer and
the merchant each honored his side of the deal and could enter the new century
with a clear conscience.