Counter-factual accounting is guess-work by definition, but a few research firms have tried to attach a number to the shutdown. Macroeconomic Advisers put the figure at $12 billion. S&P estimate the cost was twice as high, at $24 billion. Split the difference, and you’re talking about $18 billion in lost work.
What’s a good way to think about that kind of money—a sliver of the entire $15 trillion U.S. economy, but still, you know, $18 billion? In July this year, NASA funding was approved at around $17 billion for the fiscal year. So, there: The shutdown took a NASA-sized bite out of the U.S. economy.
But that’s just a nibble compared to the total cost of the budget showdowns stretching back to 2010. According to Macroeconomic Advisers, the total cost of Congress’s assault on the economy going back to 2010—including the budget cuts, including sequestration, and fights around the budget cuts—was about 3 percent of our entire economy. That’s $700 billion. That’s not just NASA. It’s one year’s entire defense budget.
Krugman thinks the number-crunchers at Macroeconomic Advisors are underestimating the fiscal drag:
The combination of the payroll [tax] hike and the [unemployment] benefit cuts amounts to about $200 billion of fiscal contraction at an annual rate, or 1.25 percent of GDP, probably with a significant multiplier effect. Add this to the effects of sharp cuts in discretionary spending and the effects of economic uncertainty, however measured, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that extortion tactics may have shaved as much as 4 percent off GDP and added 2 points to the unemployment rate.
In other words, we’d be looking at a vastly healthier economy if it weren’t for the GOP takeover of the House in 2010.