The wall President Trump hopes to build along the Mexican border, by Trump’s own estimate, will cost about $10 billion to build.
That’s more than the entire annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, more than Congress appropriated for the entire federal judiciary, more than the National Science Foundation‘s annual budget, and just a little less than what America spent in 2016 on the Department of Commerce.
The opportunity costs of spending $10 billion on a wall are striking. With the same amount of money, Trump could build more than 550 elementary schools, hire 16,500 elementary school teachers and pay them for a decade, or send 93,000 students to a public university and pay their annual tuition for ten years. And even then, Trump would still have an extra billion left over to buy gold-plated toilets and place his name on random government buildings in giant gold letters.
Trump’s $10 billion cost estimate derives from a figure given to him by the National Precast Concrete Association. But that figure is probably too low. According to the MIT Technology Review’s Konstantin Kakaes, the true cost of the wall could actually be as much as $40 billion.
As Konstantin explains, the cost of the concrete alone could cost nearly $9 billion. Steel reinforcement will add an estimated $4.6 billion in costs. And that’s before you hire a single worker to actually build the wall.
“The total cost of highways and other megascale projects in the U.S. is generally two to three times the material costs,” after you add in labor and other expenses, Konstantin writes. That leads to a total price tag of somewhere between $27 billion and $40 billion.
Forty billion is more than the 2016 annual budget of the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Justice or State. It’s enough to double the annual budget of NASA and still have more than a billion left over to buy Trump steaks and a whole mess of martinis with caviar in them.