It takes a strange mentality to equate that with a seriously ill human being.
Standard courses in economics talk about the law of demand and supply, where prices are determined to equate the two.
Those ships he speaks of equate to jobs at shipyards, the planes to jobs at Boeing/Lockeed/etc.
early 15c., from Latin aequatus "level, levelled, even," past participle of aequare "make even or uniform, make equal," from aequus "level, even, equal" (see equal (adj.)). Earliest use in English was of astrological calculation, then "to make equal;" meaning "to regard as equal" is early 19c. Related: Equated; equating.