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Prime-Time Prophet of Doom BY LOUIS DUBOSE THE GREAT DEPRESSION OF 1990 By Ravi Batra New York: Simon & Schuster 1987, 235 pages, $17.95 ON THE TUESDAY following that Monday in October when the Dow Jones average fell some 500 points, we set out to track down Dr. Ravi Batra. He was, it seemed, nowhere to be found. A secretary at the Southern Methodist University economics department insisted that Dr. Batra just wasn’t available. His answering machine at his home advised us to leave a message and Dr. Batra would return the call. A colleague at the SMU economics department offered that we weren’t the first to call and probably wouldn’t be the last, but that Dr. Batra was not expected in his office. Then, on the way to lunch, and quite by chance, we located the Dallas economist in Austin, speaking on one of those news-talk stations that always seem to be clustered over toward the low numbers of the AM band. A caller was asking nervously if what had occurred on Wall Street a day earlier would affect the FHA home loan for which she was waiting. Batra reassured her, explaining that since the loan she had described had been approved, she would probably receive it. And that others similarly situated should not be too concerned. Credit, he suggested, was not going to disappear. “But,” he said, “don’t buy the house.” The following day, a financial writer from Houston had to abruptly end a telephone conversation because Dr. Batra was about to appear on the Donahue .show. Suddenly the Dallas economist was among the most sought-after interview subjects in the country. And it wasn’t his earlier titles, Studies in the Pure Theory of International Trade or Theory of International Trade Under Uncertainty by which his personal stock had increased. It was, rather, his mass market gloom-and-doom portent, The Great Depression of 1990, complete with a dust jacket kicker “Why it’s got to happen How to protect yourself.” That title, and the near free-fall of the world’s stocks and futures markets, would guarantee Dr. Batra more than his 15 minutes of celebrity. But the book. Here is Batra’s attempt to get his message to general public. And four months after the Crash that Batra’s title seemed to portend, The Great Depression of 1990, published by a vanity press before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster, remains on the New York Times bestseller list. The Great Depression begins, in the form of a personal apologia, with an enumeration of several of the author’s December 1978 predictions: The Shah of Iran would be overthrown in 1979 and the clergy would take over the reins of government. In 1980-81 Iran and Iraq would start a bloody war, which would continue for at least seven years. Europe would experience a serious recession in 1986-87. In 1989-90 America would suffer a depression which would then turn into an all-time economic disaster plaguing the whole world. Capitalism would be overhauled in the 1990s and so would communism at the turn of the century, culminating in a global golden age. If the nature of these predictions suggests to the reader that The Great Depression is something other than a work-a-day macroeconomic treatise, that suggestion is confirmed in the second chapter where Batra devotes 30 pages to the work of Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, a scholar from India in whose Human Society Batra discovered “a philosophy of history that in one stroke could unravel the mystery of every social phenomenon. In one compelling doctrine, Sarkar had assimilated the ideas of all the past historiographers.” Sarkar’s work, then, provides much of the framework on which Batra’s argument is strung; were this book a syllogism, Sarkar’s esoteric Law of Social Cycles would stand as a major premise. According to that law, there exist four classes: warriors, intellectuals, acquisitors, and laborers. Of those four classes, sometimes warriors, sometimes intellectuals, and sometimes acquisitors will determine the course of a society and its economy. Laborers never exercise power, though at times the dominant class becomes so decadent, self-centered, and corrupt that the majority is reduced to poverty. It can then be said that a society has fallen into an “age of laborers.” But normally, it is the other three classes in Sarkar’s quadridivisional system who determine what a society is about. And every society progresses through certain epochs, in a fixed order: “Specifically, in the development of every civilization, ancient or modern, Oriental or Occidental, ‘the era of laborers is followed by the era of warriors, the era of warriors by the era of intellectuals, and the era of intellectuals by the era of acquisitors, culminating in a social revolution such a social evolution is the infallible Law of Nature.’ ” We are, according to Batra, living in an “acquisitor-cum-laborer” epoch. And, as our acquisitor-cum-laborer age concludes, we will move into the infancy of another warrior age. Which is not as bad as it might seem. Batra’s more conventional argument holds that certain concurrent cycles determine the course of economic life. Cycles of inflation, money growth, and government regulation move from peaks to valleys in predetermined thus predictable patterns. And by a careful examination of these patterns Batra concludes that in the U.S. economy there has been at least one recession every decade and a great depression every third or sixth decade, “in the sense that if the third decade managed to avoid a depression, than the sixth decade experienced a cumulative effect an all out disaster.” Batra considers briefly the depression of the 1780s, the great depression of the 1840s, the great depression of the 1870s, the great depression of the 1930s, and the various recessions that occurred between these depressions, arriving at a conclusion that must be considered the centerpiece of his work that is, that the root cause of truly calamitous depressions is concentration of wealth. In 1922, according to the author, one percent of U.S. families owned 31.6 percent of national wealth. By 1929 that one percent owned 36.3 percent of national wealth, an unusual increase of a figure that “usually moves at a slow, almost glacial rate.” Batra also cites figures that show the concentration of wealth held by one percent of U.S. families between 1969 and 1983 to have increased from 24.9 percent to 34.3 percent. Batra goes to the New York Times for his most current abstract of accumulation of wealth and finds that the number of THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17