From the LA Times today:

The median home price in Los Angeles County has reached the all-time high set in 2007, a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012.

....Orange County surpassed its pre-bust high last year, and in April set a new record of $675,000. San Diego County also exceeded its pre-bust peak for the first time last month, as the median price — the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less — climbed 7.4% to $525,000.

Inflation has risen 20 percent since 2007, so this means home prices in Southern California haven't really set a record. They're still 20 percent away from that. Here's how CoreLogic scores the current housing market compared to its bubble peak:

So things look OK. Loan delinquencies are low, credit scores have remained high, and national housing prices are high but not stratospheric.

And yet...Southern California, Arizona, and Florida are all overvalued. That's three out of the four states that led the bubble in 2006. Even Texas, which avoided the last bubble, is looking high. And anecdotally, homes are selling pretty fast around here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me think we might be back into a recession by 2018. The expansion is nine years old, unemployment is about as low as it can get, housing prices are increasing at a good clip, auto sales are anemic, and corporate profits are rising steeply. On the other side of the ledger, economic growth and wage growth are pretty modest, and there are no signs of an oil price spike around the corner.

I dunno. Things just feel a little fragile right now. But maybe I'm off base.

A couple of days ago The Intercept released a leaked transcript of President Trump's recent phone call with President Duterte of the Philippines. Here's a piece of it:

BuzzFeed's Nancy Youssef got some feedback about this from folks in the Pentagon:

Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea. “We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission.

....By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities.

Needless to say, Trump wasn't expecting that his conversation would be leaked. But these things happen—along with other ways that private conversations can end up in the wrong hands—which is why presidents don't just casually drop military secrets into meetings with foreigners for no better reason than to make themselves look tough. This is now (at least) the second time Trump has done this, and there's a price to pay:

We're quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don't trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know.

Mick Mulvaney says the haters don't know what they're talking about:

In his remarks Tuesday, Mulvaney mentioned that the economy had often grown in the past at rates of 3 percent and called people's objections to the Trump administration's expectation of growth rates that high "absurd."

"It used to be normal. Ten years ago, it was normal. In fact, it's been normal for the history of the country," said Mulvaney.

Mulvaney is sort of right about this. But there's more to it. The basic formula for economic growth is simple: Economic growth = Population growth + Productivity growth. Population growth has been slowing down for decades, and Mulvaney isn't going to change that. We know exactly what the population of the country is going to be over the next few years.

So that leaves productivity growth, which the BLS estimates here. Here's what all three factors have looked like since 1960:

In order to achieve 3 percent economic growth, we need productivity growth of about 2.3 percent. This is decidedly not normal for the history of the country—not in the past 50 years, anyway. With the brief exception of the unsustainable housing bubble era, we haven't hit that since the end of 60s.

Productivity growth is a real problem, and it's something of a mystery why it's been so low lately. But it's a mystery to Mulvaney too, and it's certainly not due to punitive tax rates or heavy-handed regulations. Despite this, Mulvaney is suggesting that Trump can more than double the productivity growth rate of the past ten years, reaching a target we haven't hit in a normal, healthy economy for the past half century. There's simply no reason to believe this, and Mulvaney hasn't even tried to explain how he thinks Trump can accomplish it. Not even hand waving. He's literally said nothing about productivity growth at all.

Until he does, nobody should believe his growth estimates. It all comes down to productivity, and that's what Mulvaney needs to talk about.

If you're wondering why the stock market is doing so well lately, here's the answer:

Earnings at U.S. companies grew at the fastest pace in nearly six years in the first quarter, the latest boon to a bull market that has stretched into its ninth year.

With nearly all companies in the S&P 500 having reported results, aggregate earnings for the first quarter are on track to grow 13.6% from the year-earlier period....Beyond the jump in growth, many investors have been encouraged by signs that the quality of the results is improving. That contrasts with recent years, when investors worried that corporate share buybacks and ultralow interest rates were juicing stock gains in the absence of business improvement.

It's not Trumpmania, it's just old-fashioned earnings growth. More people are buying stuff and companies are making more money. It's simple.

How long will this last? I don't know any more than anyone else, but my guess is that the current expansion has another year to go. I'm starting to see signs of an economy that's getting a little too exuberant, and I suspect that 2018 is going to be a mild recession year. Please note that this prediction is worth every cent you paid for it.

How much would a single-payer universal health care system cost in the United States? You don't need to do anything very complicated to get a ballpark figure. Here's the arithmetic:

  • Total spending on health care in the US is $3.2 trillion
  • Of that, $1.5 trillion is already funded by federal and state programs. That leaves additional required spending of $1.7 trillion.
  • A universal system will still require some copays and other out-of pocket expenses. Figure $200 billion or so. That leaves $1.5 trillion

So that's it. A universal health care system in the US would require about $1.5 trillion in additional government spending. If you want to make heroic assumptions about how much a single-payer would save, go ahead. But nobody serious is going to buy it. If we're lucky, a good single-payer system would slow the growth of health care costs over the long term, but it's vanishingly unlikely to actually cut current costs.

There was a lot of surprise today about an estimate that a single-payer plan for California would have a net additional cost of about $200 billion. But California has 12 percent of the nation's population, and 12 percent of $1.5 trillion is $180 billion. So that estimate is right in the ballpark of what you should expect. Short of some kind of legislative miracle, there's really no way around this. Health care is expensive.

If you want to read about President Trump's just-released budget, the rest of the news media has you covered. They have articles about cuts to food stamps, cuts to the border wall, cuts to the NIH, cuts to health research, cuts to Medicaid, cuts to the State Department, cuts to the EPA, trillions and trillions in cuts all over the place, and explainers about why 3 percent growth projections are ridiculous. Here's the tl;dr version: Trump's budget proposes huge cuts in spending on the poor along with preposterous assumptions about how much revenue they'll raise. The details really don't matter much since no one in Congress will read it. It's just a statement of Trump's callous guiding values.

So I'm mostly going to skip the whole thing unless someone points out something especially amusing. And someone has! Section 2 of the budget document is titled, "What went wrong: Inheriting $20 trillion in debt and a broken, stagnant economy." Sure enough, it contains page upon page of woe. That Obummer dude sure did screw up the economy something fierce.

However, a reader emails to point out something he thinks I'd appreciate: "Note the cherry picking of dates going on around pages 6 and 7 of the just-released Trump budget. Just as do the climate 'skeptics,' the authors of the Trump budget document pick inconsistent starting dates when they calculate growth rates of various things in order to get the good or bad results they desire. The best, perhaps, is the growth rate for real private nonresidential fixed investment."

Hmmm. Real private nonresidential fixed investment, you say? Here's what the budget document says:

Due to high taxes, high regulations, and poor economic policies, real private nonresidential fixed investment has grown by only 1.3 percent each year (on a fourth quarter-over-fourth quarter basis) since 2007, compared to 4.9 percent annually before the recession.

Yikes! That sucks. Is it true? I admit that I can't quite replicate their numbers, but let's call it close enough for government work. It's pretty nearly correct.

Of course, it only works if you start precisely at 2007 so that you include the big drop from the recession. Here's what it looks like over the longer term:

It doesn't really look all that different anymore, does it? In fact, since the Bush-era growth rate caused a massive property bubble and subsequent massive crash, we might well prefer a wee bit less growth than we had before 2007.

I suppose it says something disturbing about me that I find this kind of technocratic lying with statistics more interesting than a thousand words about how the cuts to food stamps will hurt the poor. Then again, if you made it this far, it probably says something disturbing about you, too. In any case, I figure this is my comparative advantage. Everyone is writing about food stamps, but who else will point out the obscure but telling lies like this?

Lunchtime Photo

Remember that Canada Goose nest I showed you a while back? It came to a sad end, unfortunately. I'm not sure what happened, exactly, but it was abandoned shortly before the eggs would have hatched.

But there are other Canada Geese around, and they've had better luck. Here's a pair of goslings trying to catch a quick nap after a tiring day of pecking away at the grass looking for bugs. [UPDATE: According to Rob Mac in comments, they aren't looking for bugs, they're just eating the grass.] Aren't they adorable? Mom and Dad are keeping a close eye on the kids below.

How did the FBI's investigation into the Trump-Russia connection get started, anyway? Former CIA director John Brennan says he was the one who got the ball rolling:

I encountered . . . intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” Brennan said, adding that he did not see conclusive evidence of collusion but feared that Trump associates were wittingly or unwittingly being used to advance the interests of Moscow.

....Brennan testified that he was disturbed by intelligence that surfaced last year showing a pattern of contacts between Russian agents or representatives and people with links to the Trump campaign. “That raised concerns in my mind,” Brennan said....With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began in July — the first time a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe.

That's from the Washington Post. Brennan was testifying before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the New York Times adds this disheartening tidbit:

On Aug. 4, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Mr. Brennan warned Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the F.S.B., not to meddle in the election. Not only would interference damage relations between the two countries, he said, it was certain to backfire.

“I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Mr. Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election.”

Mr. Brennan’s warning proved futile. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered with the election, it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion. President Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.

I don't blame Brennan for thinking that Russian interference in the election would outrage everyone regardless of party. I suppose I might have thought the same thing. But it ain't so anymore:

As always, click the link for the whole story.

Last week, a bunch of security goons working for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan waded into a demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Washington DC and started beating up the protesters. A few days ago, the Washington Post's Philip Bump made a pretty good case that Erdogan did more than just watch as this happened. He actually ordered his guards to attack. Rich Lowry has the right response:

This is second offense for the Turks. A year ago, they beat up protesters and disfavored journalists outside an Erdogan talk at the Brookings Institution in Washington. One reporter wrote of that earlier incident, “Never seen anything like this.” If you hang around President Erdogan long enough, though, you’ll see it all.

....The Trump administration is obviously not putting an emphasis on promoting our values abroad. But it’s one thing not to go on a democratizing crusade; it’s another to shrug off an assault on the rights of protesters on our own soil. If nothing else, President Donald Trump’s nationalism and sense of honor should be offended. Not only did the Turks carry out this attack, they are thumbing their noses at us by summoning our ambassador over it.

The Turkish goons who punched and kicked people should be identified and charged with crimes. They are beyond our reach, either because they are back in Turkey or have diplomatic immunity. But we should ask for them to be returned and for their immunity to be waived. When these requests are inevitably refused, the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. (heard saying during the incident, “You cannot touch us”) should be expelled.

It's obvious that Turkey is a delicate problem. On the one hand, they're a NATO member, and their location makes them a critical player in the war against ISIS. On the other hand, Erdogan is steadily converting Turkey into a totalitarian state. In the real world, sometimes you overlook this because you need allies and you don't always have the option of choosing someone who's pure and unsullied. But even if you accept this, Turkey is on thin ice since the Kurds are also our allies and Turkey interferes pretty seriously with our ability to team up with them. Even from a strictly realist/strategic perspective, our alliance with Turkey comes with a price.

I won't pretend to have the answer. It's above my pay grade. But ordering your embassy security to attack protesters in the US who are lawfully and peacefully assembled is a whole different thing. That deserves a strong response even if it might cause strategic tension. Enough's enough.

Jon Chait says the Trump White House has made a $2 trillion mistake:

Trump has promised to enact “the biggest tax cut in history.” Trump’s administration has insisted, however, that the largest tax cut in history will not reduce revenue, because it will unleash growth....But then the budget assumes $2 trillion in higher revenue from growth in order to achieve balance after ten years. So the $2 trillion from higher growth is a double-count. It pays for the Trump cuts, and then it pays again for balancing the budget.

It's true that the budget summary document includes a line item called "Effect of economic feedback" (in Table S-2) that comes to $2.062 trillion over ten years. Is that the same as the economic feedback that will pay for tax cuts? Who knows, really. It's all just made-up nonsense anyway. But here's an interesting thing. In the detailed projections, the Trump budget projects lower tax revenue than the final Obama budget:

What's up with that? Does the Trump budget not include any economic feedback after all? But even if it doesn't, why is their projection lower than Obama's? Is it so they can use this lower number as a new baseline for comparison when they unveil their growth-exploding tax plan later in the year?

I know, I know: who cares? The Trump numbers are just random gibberish plucked from the sky. Still, you'd think they could at least make them agree from one spreadsheet to the next. Where's the economic feedback in the tax revenue numbers?