Angelo M. Codevilla wrote an article, America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution, that received quite a bit of positive attention. For example Robert Higgs, Charles Burris, and Gary North all wrote glowing reviews of Mr. Codevilla’s essay.
Mr. Codevilla’s piece basically says that the progressive movement has become the ruling class in the United States. I responded to Mr. Codevilla’s article in A Conservative View of the Ruling Class. While I agreed with Mr. Codevilla about the sins of the progressives, my main complaint was that Mr. Codevilla ignored certain aspects of the state, such as the military, when he wrote about the American ruling class.
Mr. Codevilla appeared on John Stossel’s television program that aired October 21st, 2010. Mr. Codevilla’s appearance did much to clear up why his view of the American ruling class is biased. What was implicit in Mr. Codevilla’s essay became explicit.
The subject under discussion was cutting government spending. Someone asked Mr. Codevilla whether he was in favor of cutting military spending. Mr. Codevilla replied that he preferred to look in other areas of the budget. In defense of his stance, he said that the defense budget was a relatively small part of the total federal budget. Mr. Codevilla also said that he was in favor of cutting waste in the intelligence budget.
Mr. Codevilla’s background explains much. From Mr. Codevilla’s biography in the American Spectator, “Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, a fellow of the Claremont Institute, and a senior editor of The American Spectator, was a Foreign Service officer and served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee between 1977 and 1985”.
Mr. Codevilla made his career as a part of the defense establishment. Would you really expect that someone with such a background would want to cut the military? Imagine asking a functionary in the the Social Securities Administration(SSA) whether government spending on federal social programs should be reduced. That functionary might support cutting waste, but he would be highly unlikely to support a fundamental change in policy that attacked federal spending on social programs. In the case of the SSA functionary, Mr. Codevilla would recognize that the bureaucrat was part of the ruling class. The same insight escapes Mr. Codevilla with regard to matters military.
As for Mr. Codevilla’s contention that the military budget is a small part of total federal spending, the facts speak otherwise. Robert Higgs in Defense Spending Is Much Greater than You Think, comes up with a figure of 1,027.5 billion dollars for total defense expenditures in fiscal year 2009. The United States federal budget lists total expenditures of 3,518 billion dollars for fiscal year 2009. Thus, 29.2 percent of the federal budget is devoted to defense. Maybe I am old fashioned, but both in absolute and relative terms, a trillion dollars a year seems like a lot of money.
Mr. Codevilla says he wants to cut waste in the intelligence budget, but an endless series of commissions have been formed over the years to cut waste in various aspects of the government. You would be hard pressed to find a politician who fails to promise to cut waste while campaigning. Nothing has come from all the studies, and all the promises, except that federal spending keeps going up. You have no hope of reducing spending unless you change the policies.
The trillion dollars a year in defense spending buys armies of bureaucrats, military personnel, and defense contractors. Ever since the 1940’s, when the United States established an empire, defense outlays have fed a permanent establishment. Journalist and academics provide justifications for defense outlays, and help shape public opinion to accept the security state. So, how can some bureaucrat in the Social Securities Administration be a member of the ruling class while Mr. Codevilla fails to achieve that honor?
For a trillion dollars a year, America gets a lot of dead foreigners, some dictators propped up, and quite a few dead Americans. The ruling class, including Mr. Codevilla, profit quite handsomely from defense outlays, while most Americans get a host of foreign enemies, and the bill.
As the United States government slides toward financial ruin, about the only way that the defense establishment can be preserved is if non-defense expenditures are drastically cut. There are plenty of good reasons to cut non-defense related expenditures, but saving the defense establishment is not one of them.