In Troubled Economic Waters, Prophet Howard Ruff Profits by Telling Americans: Cut Bait

updated 07/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/30/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Hoarded any gas lately? That's a good start, but Howard Ruff also recommends stockpiling candles, auto parts, guns and ammo and a year's supply of food. According to the self-made financial pundit from Modesto, Calif., the U.S. economy not only has entered a recession but is careening into a crash worse than 1929. "The only Americans who'll make it through tomorrow's panic," warns Ruff, 48, "are the ones who fill their tills today."

Right or wrong, Ruff's Chicken Little alert hasn't hurt his own till. His bimonthly doomsday newsletter, The Ruff Times, is booming despite a subscription price of $95 a year. The weekly half-hour TV version, Ruff-house, has spread to 48 stations. He organizes lucrative survival seminars even on Caribbean cruises. His breezily written primer How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years has been a best-seller for five months and got him a $350,000 paperback advance. The expected pretax profit of his corporation this year: $1.5 million.

Ruff tells his audience that the villains are the government and banks for kiting credit and inflation. The result, says Ruff, will be "an international monetary holocaust which will sweep paper currencies down the drain and turn the world upside down." That will mean the collapse of all pension plans including Social Security.

Ruff's apocalyptic counsel is to get out of greenbacks and into real property. Flee the big cities for small towns and the rural areas(where, incidentally, most of Ruff's readers already live). Store enough food for your own and build up an arsenal of weapons for hunting and, if necessary, to stand off those who've been less prudent. If things got tough at home, Ruff says, "I suppose we could eat the Labrador retriever." Recovery, he believes, will be impossible until the nation has returned to basics (like bartering) and to the gold standard.

Trained economists, both liberal and conservative, tend to discount Ruff as a doom-profiteer, though his predictions have been right of late, as in forecasting the 1974 recession. But it was his wrong calls that led him to his vocation. The son of a widowed seamstress from Oakland, Ruff dropped out of Brigham Young University after his junior year and hacked away as a singer, actor and stockbroker before going bankrupt running an Evelyn Wood speed-reading franchise. "I decided to study every aspect of the general economy to make sure the same thing never happened to me again or to anyone else I knew," he says now.

Ruff practices his preachings, having put aside an 18-month food supply for his wife and eight children and acquired apartments in Provo, Utah. A zealous Mormon, he's now coming to think that the sexual revolution is more threatening than any economic problems. Not that he necessarily has any of his own. Ruff says his net worth is $600,000, and presumably a safe amount is socked away in spark plugs, light bulbs and granola.

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