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.

Dan Freeman is an occasional columnist for The Daily News.

(7) comments

Doyle Beard

So Freeman knows nothing about kyaking yet is an expert on all the items on all the other issues he writes about. Maybe he is just trying to make people believe he is knows what he is talking about.

Mark Aaron

Doyle: [So Freeman knows nothing about kyaking yet is an expert on all the items on all the other issues he writes about.]

Are you claiming you have to know about kayaking to know about economics, Doyle?

At least he can spell it, which is more than you can do.

Doyle Beard

Typo idiot

Doyle Beard

Thank you, did not know you were the spelling police. I forgot yo are perfect, duh.

Mark Aaron


Doyle Beard

Thanks teach but that was on purpose to see your reaction.Sucker hook Line and sinker

Steve Fouga

I agree with the author that we spend too much on defense. But the part of "defense" I wish we would spend less on is warfighting. Spending to modernize and reconstitute our armed forces is prudent; spending on wars.. well, maybe not.

Whether we need supercarriers and 2,400 F-35s is debatable, but the way to debate it is not to compare to our adversaries 1-for-1, carrier-to-carrier, airplane-to-airplane, or compare to the Ike Dike. Instead, examine our National Military Strategy and the overarching National Security Strategy, and see if the military's acquisition of new weapon systems is supported by those documents, or if not, whether said acquisition might be pork. If the acquisitions are supported by strategy, which I sincerely hope they at least looslely are, then argue with the strategy. Right now, I'd be more worried that we are UNDERspending on modernization.

I take the author's point on the Ike Dike, though. I would just say shorten the Afghanistan war by a few months. Problem solved, if the funding is truly fungible. Unfortunately, I don't believe it is.

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