Plenty of economists need to trade their cloudy crystal balls for a new model that hopefully will give them a clearer view of the economic future.

Of course, it's hard to blame many economists for warning that a recession was just around the corner and might even already be upon us. After all, America has been enjoying the longest peace-time economic expansion in the nation's history - and nothing lasts forever. Besides, there's no shortage of problems besetting the economy just now.But the encouraging news this week about the performance of the economy should help put those problems - including higher oil prices, higher taxes, and rising unemployment - in clearer perspective.

We're referring to the news that the nation's total output of goods and services - the broadest measure of America's economic activity - jumped an unexpected 1.8 percent in the third quarter on strong consumer purchases of cars, vans and trucks.

This development contradicts those who have been insisting that the country is already in a recession or about to enter one.

It's also hard to square this development with reports that the confidence of consumers, who account for two-thirds of the nation's economic activity, has dropped to levels not seen since the recession of 1981-82.

Let's hope consumers are more confident than some economic pulse-takers have been saying because, if Americans aren't careful, they could talk themselves into a recession. Though mass psychology is no substitute for economic fundamentals, there's always a danger that pessimism about the economy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy by needlessly drying up consumer spending.

But it's a mistake to underestimate the underlying strength of the American economy. As a recent case in point, remember the stock market crash of October 1987? Remember how it spawned widespread predictions of a deep recession? And remember how far off the mark and how short-lived those dire predictions were?

Admittedly, anyone who wants to worry about the future can find plenty of reason for doing so - ranging from the threat of war in the Persian Gulf to the latest display of ineptitude in Washington.

But this resilient nation has bounced back before. What's more, judging from the way Americans are producing more goods and services than expected, we may already be in the process of bouncing back again.