Calculated Risk has a smart bit of economic analysis on the real cost to taxpayers of the Cash for Clunkers and housing-credit subsidies—calculations I haven’t seen anywhere else.

CR notes that the real economic benefits of the subsidies come only from the sales they spur over and above what would have occurred without them. Some lucky folks who were going to buy anyway will happily snap up the cash but they’re a wash. It’s impossible to determine these number for sure, but you can get a pretty good estimate by looking at previous months’ data.

For August, CR estimates Cash for Clunkers prodded an additional 320,000 car sales and calculates that the “cost to taxpayers per additional car sold” at $7,200. That looks a lot worse than the $4,170 per car number put out by the government.

Home sales are far worse:

With 1.9 million first-time buyers, the total cost of the tax credit will be $15.2 billion. Divide $15.2 billion by 350 thousand (CJR: the number of additional buyers), and the program cost $43.4 thousand per additional buyer.

Excellent work.

The press ought to learn from CR here and include this kind of analysis in its stories on these credits.

I won’t hold my breath.

UPDATE: By popular request (er, demand), here’s my follow-up post looking at the benefits of Cash for Clunkers.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.