DALLAS — Unlike most economists, Ravi Batra says he's always hoped his forecasts would prove wrong.
But then again, Batra isn't your conventional economist.
The India-born economics professor at Southern Methodist University has been warning of economic doom and gloom through books and lectures for more than a decade. And so far, a few of his predictions have been close to the mark.
In his 1987 book, "The Great Depression of 1990," a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, Batra predicted that a recession would begin in 1990, but he also said it would fester into the worst depression the world has ever known.
He hasn't wavered since.
"The depression will not be confined to the economy. It will be a depression in every walk of life," said the 46-year-old Batra, who's been dubbed "Dr. Doom" by the news media.
Batra's 1987 prophecy and a follow-up book a year later called "Surviving the Great Depression of 1990" foresee worldwide unemployment, deflation, stock market crashes and bank failures over the next six years. The end result will be the collapse of capitalism, according to Batra.
"People think capitalism is invincible, but that is the same thing they said about communism," he said in a recent interview.
In 1978, Batra wrote a book entitled "The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism." The book documented how both systems would fall by the year 2000.
Publishers laughed at the notion then. But after the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall collapsed and communism lost out to \o7 perestroika, \f7 few were laughing.
Nonetheless, Batra's method of forecasting has drawn sharp scrutiny from mainstream economists.
Batra said his forecasts were born of the teachings of Indian mentor P.R. Sarkar, a spiritualist whose writings outline a history of social cycles dominating history. Sarkar, who died last year, headed an Indian sect called the Path of Bliss, some of whose followers have been known to take part in rites such as dancing with human skulls.
Batra said the cycles show that history repeats itself every 60 years. The 1980s followed the same path of the 1920s preceding the Great Depression, he said.
Leonard Silk, an economist and columnist for the New York Times, called Batra "a bright guy and . . . by and large a good economist."
"But on the business of whether or not civilization is collapsing, my feeling is that it is in the realm of science fiction," he said.
Allen Sinai, the chief economist for the Boston Co. and an economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, agreed.
"The start of this downfall is very severe and there are lots of similarities between now and the Great Depression," Sinai said. "But the power the government policy-makers have over maintaining the growth in the economies is too strong. There is enough knowledge there to avoid another depression."
Batra, who lives with his wife, Sunita, in a rented duplex to avoid high overhead, said he's gotten used to rejection. But he said he hopes more people will take him seriously.
"The people who have lost their jobs, the white-collar positions as well as the entry-level positions, understand that this is very serious," Batra said.
He predicted unemployment would reach between 10% and 15% by the end of 1991. By 1995, the country will be plagued with "soup and kitchen lines worse than in the 1930s," he said.
Batra claims a high concentration of wealth in the United States coupled with a bulging federal budget deficit have started what he called an unstoppable downward spiral in the capitalist market. The cost of the Persian Gulf War and its effect on oil prices only add to the dilemma, he said.
Dave Williams, executive director of the National Assn. of Business Economists in Cleveland, said most of the NABE's 3,700 members are predicting that the current recession will end in the second half of 1991.
"Positive forecasts are based on wishful thinking," Batra countered.
He noted that in the recession of the early 1980s interest rates were lowered to stimulate growth and the economy responded favorably. But he argued that easing rates now won't do any good because they are already relatively low.
Batra advises people to liquidate and convert assets to cash and gold, even keep some tucked away under a mattress.
"More and more banks will begin to fail," he said. "The insurance industry will fall apart and there will be an increase in crime, drugs and greed before everything bottoms out.
"The government will try traditional means for recovery, but it will be ineffective. Those sickened by the malaise and materialism will demand an end to the political dominance of the wealthy."
Batra maintains it will be just as gloomy overseas.
"The fall in the Japanese stock market will pale in comparison to the real estate crash in Japan," Batra said. "Their overly inflated land values will come crashing down some time this year. Banks will begin to fail and panic will shoot through their economy."
But there is some good news ahead, he says.
The beginning of the 21st Century will commence a golden age in which the major economic players on the globe will work to form a new socioeconomic system, he said.
"Everyone always says I am full of doom and gloom," Batra said. "At least this story has a happy ending."