A while ago I got the bright idea I needed more exercise. What better way than to begin kayaking?
So I bought one from L.L. Bean. It sat in the garage for a few weeks while we went up to Vermont on a short holiday. Wandering around small towns, I happened into a sporting goods store that was replete with kayaks, fishing tackle, nets and so forth.
Believing I would soon become an expert kayaker, I gathered up a mess of gear. When checking out I asked the clerk what else I needed to enhance my kayaking experience. Peering out from under his shaggy red eyebrows, he said “Do you mean need or want, because you do not need any of this stuff.” So much for that sale.
The comment sticks with me whenever we set our family budget and probably would be a good one for legislators to ponder as they spend billions on sophisticated armaments. The fiscal 2016 defense budget was $580 billion.
The House has proposed an increase to over $700 billion. Under NATO Treaty obligations, members are supposed to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. In 2016 we spent 3.3 percent. Under the House budget we will increase this to 4 percent of our GDP, double our treaty obligation. Do we need it or want it?
I cannot get my head around numbers with so many commas. Let’s put it terms of stuff around Galveston. An Ike Dike is estimated to cost about $12 billion to protect 40 percent of the nation’s petrochemical capacity. Suppose we build two supercarriers like the George H.W. Bush. That would be about $12 billion. Which do we need: to protect the petrochemical industry or two more supercarriers?
That’s a hard question, but if we look around we find no other nation has even one supercarrier. We have 10 supercarriers and 10 conventional carriers. Our adversaries China and Russia each have one conventional carrier. It follows that there is no reason to maintain even half of our carrier fleet.
Currently the Galveston Independent School District spends about $90 million per year. President Trump has pressured Lockheed Martin to reduce the price of the F-35 fighter to $100 million. So each F-35 costs about the budget of a school district for one year. The Pentagon has proposed buying 2,400. Do we need or want this many planes?
What will it cost to bring our infrastructure up to par? President Trump says it will cost at least $1 trillion, an amount recommended by the National Association of Manufacturers. If we spread it over 10 years, that is $100 billion a year or 0.5 percent of GDP.
“Fungible” is a great word. It means money raised for one purpose can be used for another. So do we want to spend 4 percent of our GDP on defense or infrastructure?
By the way, I gave away the kayak I did not need.