Nelson Schwartz struggled to make sense of the economy in a NYT column today. After all, we see signs of economic weakness everywhere, yet the stock market is soaring. (This may be less of a mystery to folks who know that stock prices are ostensibly a measure of corporate profits, not the health of the economy.) 

After going through the bad news, Schwartz gives us the case for optimism about the economy:

"'The current slowdown will be the last for a while,' said Ethan Harris, co-head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He estimates that after growing by annual rates of only 1.3 percent in the second quarter and 1.5 percent in the third quarter, the economy will expand by 2.5 percent in the final months of the year and maintain that pace in 2014.

'We’re getting closer to the end of chronically disappointing growth,' Mr. Harris added. 'It’s not like we’re going to have a huge boom but something that feels sustainable.'"

The economy has a trend growth rate of between 2.2 percent and 2.4 percent. If we sustain a 2.5 percent growth rate then we will be exceeding the trend growth rate by between 0.1-0.3 percentage points. According to the Congressional Budget Office the economy is still 6.0 percentage points below its potential level of output. This means that in the optimistic scenario described here we will return to potential GDP in somewhere between 20 and 60 years.