The bottom line: A debt-ceiling breach would be very, very, very bad.
Keep in mind that these are all hypothetical scenarios. Reality could be better, or much worse. The truth is that while we sort of know what a government shutdown would look like (since it’s happened in the past), we have no idea what chaos a debt-ceiling breach could bring. If, in a month, we reach the X Date, run out of money, and are stuck in political stalemate, we’ll be entering truly uncharted waters. And we’ll be dealing our already-fragile economy what could amount to a knockout blow.
This is an example of something common: Someone who has never correctly predicted anything (in this case, Roose) telling the rest of us what will happen with certainty. If Roose is repeating what experts told him, he should have said who, and their track record. Roose is far from the only person making scary predictions without any evidence he can do better than chance. Here is another example by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.
The same thing happens with climate change, except that it is models, not people, making predictions. Models that have never predicted climate correctly — for example, none predicted the current pause in warming — are assumed to predict climate correctly. We are supposed to be really alarmed by their predictions. This makes no sense, but there it is. Hal Pashler and I wrote about this problem in psychology.
A third example is the 2008 financial crisis. People who failed to predict the crisis were put in charge of fixing it. By failing to predict the crisis, they showed they didn’t understand what caused it. It is transparently unwise to have your car fixed by someone who doesn’t understand how cars work, but that’s what happened. Only Nassim Taleb seems to have emphasized this. We expect scary predictions based on nothing from religious leaders — that’s where the word apocalypse comes from. From journalists and the experts they rely on, not so attractive.
I don’t know what will happen if there is a debt-ceiling breach. But at least I don’t claim to (“very very very bad”). And at least I am aware of a possibility that Roose (and presumably the experts he consulted) don’t seem to have thought of. A system is badly designed if a relatively-likely event (debt-ceiling breach) can cause disaster — as Roose claims. The apocalyptic possibilities give those in control of whether that event happens (e.g., Republican leaders in Congress) too much power — the power to scare credulous people. If there is a breach, we will find out what happens. If a poorly-built system falls down, it will be much easier to build a better one. Roose and other doom-sayers fail to see there are plausible arguments on both sides.