If I was emperor

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I’m surprised. When we posted a poll on our website Friday asking what people thought of Maritime union, I wasn’t expecting a lot of support. I thought the most popular response would be number three: remain completely separate but look for chances to partner. Instead, options one and two are both more popular than three, and together receive 60 per cent of the vote.

Option one, the most popular, calls for the merger of the Maritimes into a single province. Option two calls for the creation of a strong federation, with some joint services but separate identities for each province.

Sixty per cent is a strong number. Not a slam dunk, no, but it clearly hit a nerve. What will be interesting to see is if this dies or picks up steam. Our political leaders and bureaucracies have every reason to maintain the status quo, so any change will require more than 60 per cent support on an unscientific newspaper poll. Forces in support of federation or union will need to mobilize and win over skeptics. But the idea appears to have some base of support.

I think I fall in camp two: advocating a strong regional federation, without completely giving up separate provincial identities. The problem with this concept is the danger of creating another tier of expensive government: provincial, federal, and then regional. There are ways around this, though. First, reduce all tiers of government across the board, from municipalities up. Second, download authority from the federal government to the regions, diminishing the spheres of responsibility for Ottawa.

That’s the theory, anyway. I realize creating a third level of government is a great opportunity for big spenders to go crazy with the public purse.

Hey, as long as we’re talking about big ideas that face almost insurmountable obstacles, I thought I’d talk about global defense spending.

Did you know the United States has budgeted about $700 billion for defense in 2012? Combine that with the nine other biggest spenders, and you have a budget of $1.288 trillion.

Now, I know this will fly in the face of all my talk about small government. In principle, I don’t believe governments have the right to take large sums of money from citizens for discretionary spending. But just for fun, let's play out this "alternate way to spend $1.288 trillion" scenario.

Obama puts out a public statement inviting the leaders of the 10 biggest spenders to meet with him. (SKIP THIS NEXT PART TO AVOID MATH.) First, as a nod to my belief governments should spend less, you cut all military spending in half, proportional to each country, and pay down debt. Tenth position Brazil, for example, would see its spending drop from $35 billion to $17.5 billion. This would put it about equal with Turkey, which is the 15th biggest military spender. But the nations in positions 11 through 14 – Italy, South Korea, Australia and Canada - are hardly a threat to Brazil’s interests.

We’re not done. The United States outspends all nine of the other countries combined militarily. As a sign of good faith, and because they’re in debt up to their eyeballs, and because they can afford to spend way less, the US would halve its military spending again, bringing it down to just $177 billion (compared to China’s new number, $72 billion, and Russia’s $36 billion).

Where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing the creation of two funds. Money for them will come, first, from the $177 billion the U.S. freed up in the second cut. Then each of the other nine will be asked to clawback (from cuts already made) the equivalent of 20% of their new military budgets. So China, with its military budget of $72 billion, would contribute $14.4 billion.

(MOST OF THE MATH IS OVER BY NOW) So, the funds Obama would be proposing would have in the neighbourhood of $230-plus billion, while also saving all 10 nations vast amounts of money on military spending and maintaining the relative status quo of their military power (except for the U.S., but it would still be very dominant).

Now we get to the “If Eric was emperor of the planet” part.

One fund gets $130 billion per year. It’s used for medical research, humanitarian missions and education, and environmental improvement. It’s the “let’s help people” money.

The other $100 billion would be spent on space exploration.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

NASA’s budget for 2012 is about $16 billion. The European Space Agency spends about $5 billion. Let’s say the Russians and Chinese spend $5 billion each. That totals just $31 billion. So we’re talking about a three-fold increase in spending on space exploration.

What does that mean? Well, a lot of things. Permanent bases on the Moon and asteroids within 20 years. Permanent bases on Mars within 30, if not sooner. Human voyages to all of the inner planets in the same time frame. Human trips to the outer planets in 40 years. And a 100-year starship – yes, a giant colony vessel traveling for 100 years to a habitable planet around another sun – leaving within 50 years.

That’s just the manned missions. You can add in extensive robotic exploration of all the planets and moons within 30 years, and commercial exploitation of close ones within 20.

All of these are guesses, of course. This whole thing is a ridiculous exercise in fanciful thinking. I don't think government is justified taking money from citizens for most of what I've suggested above. But it puts the microscope on the way we do spend money, and makes us question why things aren’t different. The biggest takewaway: Our species wastes a vast amount of our collective resources on military spending.

If we’re going to spend huge sums of money, let’s get something for it. Better health and education, improved environmental education and, my favourite, the beginning of the next phase of human civilization: inter-solar expansion.

Here’s food for thought. NASA’s current budget is just two-thirds the budget of Canada’s military. Little old Canada could fund our own NASA, and have money leftover for modest domestic defense.

 

 

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