Hope that Bill Helming is wrong — again.
To be honest, he'd be fine with that. Nobody wants to live through an economic depression marked by a beaten-down stock market, a jobless rate at 12 percent, widespread debt defaults and a deflationary price spiral that takes the economy down with it.
Yet we're on our way, says Helming, a widely respected agricultural economist who lives in Olathe. His new book, "What Goes Up Eventually Comes Down," lays out the dismal forecast.
"I hope I'm wrong, but I'm trying to be as much of a realist as I can," Helming said in an interview. "The stage is set for some difficult times in urban America. There's nobody that's going to be left out of this."
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Helming has had dark visions of tomorrow before. For example, when the stock market crashed in October 1987, Helming feared the worst.
"We're heading for a recession we haven't seen the likes of since the 1930s," he told the Star at the time.
Helming saw the summer of 1990 as the onset of "the most serious deflationary recession we've had in over 50 years."
He declared outright in November 1992 that the nation's economy had entered a depression. And July 1994 reminded him of "what happened in the early 1930s."
We know now he was wrong. That doesn't keep his or others' dire forecasts from attracting attention during hard times.
A depression remains in the economic forecasts of author Harry Dent Jr., and deflation figures strongly in the views of economist Gary Shilling and technical analyst Robert Prechter.
Talk of depression had rattled markets a year ago, for example, when Harvard economist Robert Barro put the odds at 20 percent. Recently, he set them "close to zero" for 2010.
Most economists expect a weak, slow recovery — but a recovery all the same.
Helming makes his case for what he calls a "modern-day depression" in his 195-page, self-published book.
We'll see a sustained drop in the prices of just about everything, from stocks and real estate to wages and commodities, he says, and some of that is happening now.
Helming argues that much more lies ahead. He said decades of easy credit and increasingly widespread use of debt — by governments, companies and consumers — have inflated the economy and the price of nearly everything to unreasonable heights.
"We borrowed our way to prosperity, and that has never in history been sustainable," Helming said.
In short, we're living in an economy packed with bubbles.
But in Helming's forecast, bubbles this big don't burst. They deflate.
It will take years, difficult years, to deflate prices, unwind excessive debt and stabilize the overblown economy, he said. It will take a depression. Think of Japan's lost economic decade of the 1990s, he said.
Helming is clearly right about one thing. Few Americans know what it's like to live through a depression. And that's one of the conditions that he says brings them on.
We're really riding an inevitable cycle of decades-long economic booms followed by shorter but painful busts, Helming notes. The latest boom began in 1940, on the heels of the Great Depression.