Consumer confidence is the phrase economists use to define optimism.
Because optimism is an attitude, the economic outlook is determined both by statistics and state of mind.
A positive public attitude can bolster the economy. Similarly, pessimism produces problems.
Economists are inclined to quantify everything, including attitude, which is measured by the Consumer Confidence Index.
The index sounded a year-end flourish Wednesday, reaching its highest level since April and approaching a post-recession peak.
The increase reflects optimism voiced by economists recently surveyed by The Associated Press. They generally agreed the U.S. economy will grow faster in 2012, barring upheavals in Europe.
Consumer confidence also was mirrored by brisk holiday shopping. November sales rose 4.1 and December pre-Christmas sales increased 4.7 percent in comparison to the same periods in 2010, according to research firm ShopperTrak, which characterizes a 4 percent increase as a healthy season.
All these economic indicators are important, but the most critical is the job outlook.
A report Thursday showed the unemployment rate at 8.6 percent in November, its lowest level in nearly three years. In addition, the number of people applying for jobless benefits has declined by 10 percent since January 2011.
In this election year, the economy will be a topic of much discussion and debate. Candidates will take credit for each upswing and criticize opponents for each downturn.
Such boasting and blaming is expected, but it is nonsense.
No candidate or elected official — Republican or Democrat, executive or legislator — can single-handedly spark an economic boom.
The economy is multi-faceted and complex, and history has demonstrated it is cyclical.
Consumer optimism may be the single-greatest remedy for an ailing economy.
Although the economic elevator is expected to rise this year, the ride may be slow and, sometimes, bumpy.