Various conservatives have latched onto a recent report from the American Action Forum to claim that the Green New Deal will cost $93 trillion. How did they get that number? Easy. The AAF report estimates GND costs of $53-94 trillion over ten years, so conservative activists just took the high number. And then cut it by $1 trillion for some reason. And then forgot to mention that this is a ten-year cost.
As it happens, nearly all of the $93 trillion cost comes from two things: universal health care and a jobs guarantee. The other items, which are the ones that actually fight climate change, clock in at $10-14 trillion, or about $1 trillion per year. Is that a fair estimate? Nobody knows.
More generally, though, is it even fair to attempt an estimate in the first place? After all, the GND famously lacks any details on which to judge this stuff. Because of this, climate hawks are crying foul.
But this is naive. If this were a conservative proposal about, say, defense spending, plenty of liberal think tanks would take a best-guess at the cost even if the proposal was vague. This is just how things work, and not only because it’s politically expedient. It’s also the case that people are curious. Even if it’s just a ballpark estimate, plenty of people can’t help themselves from giving it a go.
And after all, what did the GND folks expect? They’re the ones who stuffed their document with everything but the kitchen sink. Did they seriously think that everyone would hold back on cost estimates out of a sense of fair play or something? If they did, they’re morons. Of course opponents are going to try to put a number on it. And if you’re not willing to fight back with your own number, then you’ve left the field wide open to the opposition.
This puts the GND folks in a pickle. They can’t fight back with their own number, because they know that any semi-reasonable number is going to be really high. Maybe not $93 trillion over ten years, but still pretty high. These are just fundamentally expensive programs they’ve proposed.
This is the downside of proposing a big, comprehensive program. Yes, a big program is what the world needs. We are, after all, trying to stave off planetary suicide. But if you insist on a big, comprehensive program, then it’s going to have big, comprehensive costs. Can you whip up public support even when opponents throw these costs in your face? If you can’t, then your program is a dead letter. So you better figure out how to deal with this.