You can't stop them from forecasting, but you can stop listening to them.

This is a time of year when all America's economists, stock market seers, gurus, pundits, publicity seekers, self-servers and dreamers tell you what the future holds.It seems not to matter a whit that they've been wrong before or that they have no idea what might transpire in the Mideast or that they have already prepared alternative scenarios - forecasters will forecast.

So they are forecasting, and as always, you may - if you want - choose any economic scenario from boom to bust, with colorful subplots involving rampaging stock markets, depressions, conflagration and total global peace.

But if you choose well, you might reject them all, at least until Jan. 15 or thereafter, when it should become known if the Mideast is to blow up or cool down.

That one factor, the Mideast, makes this year's forecasts more absurd than ever, because what happens there happens to the entire world economy. To date, no forecaster has shown evidence of foreknowledge.

But, as some forecasters say, what the heck, nobody will remember if I make a bum forecast and nobody will ever forget if I manage to call it right. I won't ever let them forget. Never.

In the past, some of the most absurd forecasts, such as stock market guru Joseph Granville's promise that Los Angeles would be ruined in an earthquake, have left their authors only slightly tarnished and ready for more.

They do come back; for some reason, society forgives, and they know it. It is, for instance, less than a guiding maxim but more than a joke when it is said that if you forecast, forecast often.

Most forecasters do forecast often, and without apologies for past errors. In fact, one of the prevailing explanations for a forecast gone awry is that the economy acted irrationally - that it, rather than the forecaster, failed.

Some of the breed, especially those who forecast because they are compelled to do so rather than choose to do so, cover themselves by offering various scenarios, a legitimate precaution but one that diminishes effectiveness.

The "U.S. Forecast Summary," a highly detailed effort by Roger Brinner for DRI-McGraw Hill, offers four scenarios:

1. A quick peace (or a quick war), which it calls the optimistic scenario. It assumes that oil prices will drop below $20 by late spring, that consumer and business confidence will recover, and that the Federal Reserve will guarantee a solid recovery.

2. A credit squeeze on the private sector, which it calls "the average recession scenario" of about three quarters, including the one just past.

3. War and an energy crisis, "the long war scenario," with higher oil prices, falling production throughout the world and heavy government spending and inflation.

4. A "marriage" of war and financial stress, or "the deep recession scenario," in which production would fall for four quarters, construction would be badly hurt, auto sales would collapse and stock prices would fall.

Whichever it might be - and the chosen one seems to be the average recession scenario, in which the economy would resume growth this summer - Brinner offers this unqualified advice:

"In all of this month's scenarios, economic recovery in the United States must wait for peace and cheap oil."

When that might be, no forecaster can say.