LONDON — Deep gloom is predicted for 2009, with talk of deflation, shrinking economies and rising unemployment. Economists point to the huge drop in Japanese output, zero growth in Europe, dwindling world trade, collapsing financial institutions and the threat of worse to come.

Before everyone catches the gloom bug, here are a few counter-predictions that things in 2009 may not turn out so badly as the experts are telling us:

* First, almost all economists are almost always wrong in their forecasts.

Most of them failed to predict the present global financial turmoil and the deep world recession. This maxim applies especially to energy economists.

Almost none foresaw the huge fall in oil prices (although it had happened before in 1986 and was staring them in the face). Further back, almost none foresaw the full impact of the information revolution and the Worldwide Web.

Economists get things wrong because in their tramline world they fail to appreciate the randomness and irrationality of human beings and their emotions, and the impact these things have on events. They try to apply highly precise, mathematical methods to materials and figures that are too vague to support such treatment. Lord Keynes made that point in the 1930s when he showed that most conventional economic thinking was nonsense.

There is the added point that despite sounding very certain, many economists don’t really know what the usual economic aggregates, such as “economic growth,” really mean. Measuring methods are highly suspect.

If more growth just means more cars, more low-quality housing and more trashy supermarkets, the world would be better without it.

What this suggests is that if most economists are talking about deflation in 2009, then it is fairly likely that the problem will be inflation. If most economists are talking about 2009 as a disaster, then it will probably be not too bad.

* Second — and this is a point for Europeans in particular — the European Union may not be falling apart, as many analysts are arguing.

It is true that Germany is not getting on with France so well, that the differing economic needs of Greece, Italy and Span from those of the northern Europeans are almost tearing the euro apart, and that in many member states a new mood of nationalism (and thus protectionism) is growing.

The European Commission is reported as having spent 2 billion euro in 2008 trying to persuade people of the virtues of the EU. But they might as well have poured the money down the drain because they are promoting the wrong story. They are trying to put a friendly face on a centralized, supranational and busybody bureaucratic machine in an age when decentralization, diversity and moderate nationalism are the favored themes.

People want a gentle shared European unity of nations, not a pan-European straitjacket of over-regulation imposed on them from above. “Above” is no longer trusted or believed. It is more a Europe of Carlo Bruni — subtle, undemanding, beautiful, innovative, creative — rather than the high-handed Europe of her diminutive, hyperactive husband Nicolas Sarkozy that they yearn for. That better Europe may actually come about more quickly as the result of recession than it might have done otherwise.

* Third, the arrival of Barack Obama.

He is already showing he sees the world in new ways and understands that a wiser, less assertive and less domineering America can pull itself out of its decline and restore its reputation. * Fourth, it could be that with world growth halted and plans being shelved for ever-larger mergers and mega- organizations, small will grow still more beautiful in 2009.

Giant and remote utilities and retail empires, offering only endless recorded voices on the telephone, will give way to less soulless enterprises where it actually becomes possible to talk with a human being and where local taste and elegance will replace the universal junk that litters the world’s supermarkets.

Down will go the Tescos and the Walmarts and the tasteless chainstores, undermining smaller and family businesses. Woolworth’s has gone from Britain, and something altogether better, and on a more human scale, will grow in the place of these retail behemoths.

Such are just a few of the positive prospects that 2009 could bring, leading to a new and better balanced kind of prosperity and welfare, and confounding all the super-pessimists who are signaling the end of the free world, the demise of capitalism and the return of dark and oppressive ideologies.

A famous and bluff British statesman, William Whitelaw, used to remind his followers (of which this writer was one) that in public affairs nothing is ever as good as it seems and nothing is ever as bad as it seems. That adage might be a better guide to 2009 than the cascades of gloomy analysis that the experts currently offer.

David Howell is a former British Cabinet minister and former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. He is now a member of the House of Lords. Blog: www.lordhowell.com

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