Publisher’s Note: Tom is one of the smartest observers of the impending collapse out there. He wrote Starving the Monkeys after experiencing the big surprise that is small business in America: the sky darkens as regulators and tax collectors parachute in to ravage and manage your business to their advantage. This journey, of course, led to other unpleasant discoveries he will regale us with in this scintillating interview. He and I share military experience and I am always amused at how that informs one’s evolving worldview when it comes to government. Later he speaks to the conclusions about the Founding that has been a very large turning point for plenty of sober thinking libertarians in the past decades. I, too, owe Royce for what was a critical turning point in my own philosophical journey. -BB
• Why did you write Starving the Monkeys?
My original intention was to write a book for entrepreneurs to teach them how to cut through a lot of the red tape and employee issues that keep business owners from focusing on their original business purpose, and that keep employees from behaving in a more independent and productive way. I had run several small businesses, and found out the hard way that the more one can get by without hiring anyone, the better. Also, I intended to teach people to stop seeing themselves as employees, but instead to run their own small businesses themselves and perform work on a contract basis for their previous (and other) employers. I had successfully applied this change in attitude from the employee/employer to client/consultant from all sides of the equation, to much profit. I knew that I had a lot to offer others to help them make the same transition.
Just as I started to write that book, the real estate collapse of 2008-2009 hit, and wiped out essentially everything I had ever earned, and more. Practically overnight, despite a long track record of business successes, I, along with many others across the country, found myself destitute for reasons which had nothing to do with decisions I had made, other than owning property to house my family and businesses. Essentially, we had our heads down working while thieves snuck up behind us and legally robbed us all blind.
While reorienting to this new reality, I realized that the environment that keeps an adversarial relationship between employee and employer, rather than the ideal of a cooperative relationship of client-consultant/contractor, is a consequence of regulations that are put in place by the legislative lackeys of large corporate interests to protect them from competition from below. And, that it is this same system of institutionalized theft and deceit that is at the heart of practically every problem we face as a people.
Reacting to this revelation, and drawing from the classics of economic, political and military history, I decided to expand the simple entrepreneurial book into a guide that people can use to orient to the economic terrorism that is waged on us all daily. Essentially, “Starving the Monkeys: Fight Back Smarter” is a handbook for what is today a necessary guerrilla war that individuals must fight on an economic and political level today, and a military level tomorrow, followed by additional levels afterward.
By the way, the original title “Starving the Monkeys: An Entrepreneurial Horror”, reflected that early business-only basis. The current title is more descriptive of the expanded scope.
• I am also a former military man who found his way to anarcho-capitalism, tell us how your path started and where it went.
Wow, that’s a long and winding path! I went to the Naval Academy because I wanted to be an astronaut and Navy and Marine Corps pilots were considered to be top of the heap in the early space program. When it became clear that the space program was effectively dead in terms of actual progress and exploration, after graduation I decided to go into the Marine Corps on the ground side and became an Air Support Control Officer.
During Desert Storm, I was responsible for the entire Marine air effort for eight hours each night, so I was plugged into the command and control apparatus at a very high level as a junior officer. I began to get the inkling that not everything was as it was marketed: that entire war was pointless, fought for reasons that didn’t make any sense from a historical perspective, fought to an unsatisfying conclusion from a military perspective, and in general just seemed to be an overall boondoggle. I also lost a lot of respect for very senior officers who made short-sighted decisions that got people killed (or would have gotten people killed if they hadn’t been disobeyed) while being focused solely on promotion and advancement. And a lot of junior and mid-level officers aspired to be just like them. That shook a lot loose inside. I joke sometimes that if the war had gone on much longer I probably would have had some colonels and generals heads mounted for display in my cell at Leavenworth. As it was, they sent me to recruiting duty for a couple of years!
After I left the Marine Corps, I earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. I was recruited by what was essentially the “skunk works” for McDonnell Douglas, and thought “now I’ll really make a difference.” Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that my main responsibility there was to show my academy ring to win defense contracts for useless weapon concepts. There are a lot of really bad ideas percolating around the defense industry, but all that matters is whether it will sell. I left that after six months and started doing consulting work both independently and through agencies.
A few years later, I started a series of companies to handle my own contracting, and had a couple of hit products in some niches. I made a lot of money on my own, and then made the mistake of hiring people. After I got tired of going into an office to provide good jobs for other people, I started trimming staff way back and magically started making good money again. The light bulb went on.
Then, as mentioned previously, the monkeys snuck up behind me and stole everything. That light bulb turned into a target illuminator.
• Is there a misanthropic streak in your book?
I had to look that one up! I suppose there’s more than a streak of that. More like an underlying theme. We are where we are not because of a few bad people. Instead, we are where we are because a whole lot of people like things this way. As an example, wander around a Tea Party rally and ask how many people there are on Social Security or getting a military retirement check. My kids shouldn’t have to be on the hook their whole lives because someone avoided getting hit by a bus for decades, or helped the banksters take over or punish some country somewhere. If Baby Boomers hadn’t spent their youth killing their own kids, someone might be around to take care of them in the years to come. And if the country behaved in ways that was worth defending the citizen-soldiery wouldn’t have to be bribed with pensions to defend it.
As a result, my book doesn’t try to convince anyone of anything. Instead, I’m trying to reach the few people out there who are actually worth a damn, and who understand what is actually going on. Then, I try to give those people some tools to help them live better lives now, and to help them rebuild civilization later. And understand who their actual enemies are.
• Tell us about the “forces of niceness”.
Along the Tea Party lines, the forces of niceness are all those people who think that being polite and playing by the rules is more important than justice and liberty. I’ve called these naive people “lily-whites” elsewhere. Glenn Beck types are a big part of this crowd, and place politeness and respect above all else. But, someone who is trying to steal from me and enslave my children doesn’t deserve my politeness and respect. We are where we are because these people aren’t willing to see through to the horror that actually is our world today. This deliberate blindness allows all kinds of nefarious behavior to go on unchecked and unpunished. They’ll stamp their pedicured feet all day long, but suggest that maybe it isn’t a bad thing when banksters get blown up or feral cops get shot by their intended victims, or that people should be free to use drugs until it kills them, and suddenly these people run for the hills.
This attitude has been bred into the populace for generations to the point that the forces of niceness will instinctively turn against anyone with guts and determination. To them, obedience and decorum must be maintained above all, which makes this class of people actually more dangerous than the oligarchs. As a result, the few of us left that are worth a damn are systematically hunted down and marginalized while the lily-whites wave their flags and cheer about an American exceptionalism that has long vanished.
• I am a student of Stoicism and see a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) Stoic thread running through the book. Would you say that is a fair characterization?
I had to look that one up, too! That’s a theme running through Starve the Monkeys (STM), by the way. It’s fine to not know things as long as you are willing to learn. OK, here’s what I gather about Stoicism. I think it is important to at least adopt the ethical and rational aspects of Stoicism. Where I think the lessons in STM departs from that path is that it is sometimes necessary to wear a monkey suit as camouflage, and derive an inner calm as a tool rather than as a virtue. I often advise people facing conflict in their work or personal lives, as a survival mechanism, to stitch a monkey suit of such quality that the monkeys wouldn’t even recognize the angel of death in their midst. Stoics might stitch that suit as an adaptive mechanism, but then not be ready to follow through to, uh, mitigate the sources of conflict when the circumstances are appropriate. It is the willingness to act in that latter phase immediately following a collapse, which distinguishes a monkey starver from a Stoic. A monkey starver doesn’t act today simply because the personal consequences are inconvenient.
• I would characterize all the major political ruling classes in America as profoundly pro-big business and viciously anti-small business. I think the former is due to the co-opting that takes place between larger firms and the purchasing of regulatory and tax power in DC and the state capitals. I think they despise small business because of the profound economic illiteracy of the nomenklatura in America in how economies grow and prosper. What are your thoughts?
I think your thoughts are right on the nose. I would add that the anti-small-business slant is another aspect of that forces of niceness thing. Small businesses are how individuals provide for themselves independent of a traditional work environment. If you can provide for yourself without being subjected to endless indoctrination at the office, you become much harder to control and predict. That scares the hell out of the lily-whites. So, the bigger and more consolidated the businesses, the more control that can be exerted over people, and the less risk of someone slipping through the cracks. That is another reason why I encourage people to slip off those employee chains as soon as they can, even if they wind up making less money. The freedom of mind and action is well worth it.
• A friend of mine runs a small business and he makes a compelling case that 50-60 cents of every dollar that comes through his front door is immediately liberated by some level of taxing authority. Does it pay to be self-employed? How difficult is it to have even one above-ground employee in America today?
It doesn’t pay at all to be self-employed. But it does pay in a big way to run one’s own small corporation. The distinction is huge. Technically, the deductions are the same either way, but in practice you can save a lot more on taxes by being an employee of your own corporation rather than what is known as a 1099 contractor; but either of those beats being a full-time employee of someone else, when hardly anything is deductible. I’ve written a lot about that in my “Fully Taxated” article series, but the most important advantage to running your own small business is the change in attitude that comes from having clients instead of bosses. Just don’t make the mistake of starting to hire people; the tax and regulatory burden jumps dramatically. Better to help those people incorporate and then do business-to-business work with them.
• Tell me your evolution in thought on the Constitution? Has Lysander Spooner, a patron saint at ZeroGov, had an effect on your approach to government and the state?
I have to thank Russ Longcore at DumpDC for turning me on to Lysander Spooner. Shortly afterward, Ken Royce pointed me to his book, “Hologram of Liberty”. That one-two punch is devastating! STM predates that transformation, but does point out some critical flaws in the Constitution. My thinking now is that all those Constitutional Oaths were obtained by fraud, and are null and void. There is a big gap between the power of the seven Constitutional Articles and the Bill of Rights. One does not equal or imply the other. Similarly, we are taught that the Constitution, a product of what Ken Royce calls the Founding Lawyers (or Bankers) should be held in equal reverence to the Declaration of Independence, a product of the Founding Fathers. I now believe that July 4th, which commemorates the American Revolution, is a perfect time to burn a federally reserved flag, which commemorates the Counter-Revolution of 1787.
• How close are we to economic catastrophe? Do you anticipate an economic collapse with burgeoning secession movements to break the country apart?
Hard to say. I don’t think I’m smart enough to predict that. There is a big difference between what I think is an impending collapse, and a period of worsening leading up to it. I think we’re near that worsening stage right now. The worsening really starts when it becomes clear that government bonds simply don’t have to be, or can’t be, paid. As the effect of that ripples outward, a lot of people (the monkeys) will find out that they really don’t have, or know, or do, anything of value.
During this period, I think a lot of people will be running around with their hair on fire, when in reality the roads will still be there, the water will still come out of the faucets, and electricity will still come out of the holes in the wall. The only thing that will be different is that everything you need will cost a lot, but everything you have isn’t worth anything. An economic collapse is a lot different from The Collapse, which is a total breakdown of social order.
This situation will create a unique opportunity. In that crisis, secession movements can feed on an economic collapse to interrupt The Collapse, at least for their own populations. But, these movements are and will continue to be wildly unpopular, particularly because so many people will wonder where their federally reserved retirement and other checks will come from. If the seceding states take on those obligations, they’ll go down soon, too.
Since no state currently has the right demographics in terms of an independent population willing to forego the nipple, secession movements today best serve in the form of an incubator for ideas about how to rebuild later. Since most of the head-in-the-sand types won’t make it, the demographics will then be appropriate to restore the traditional American ethos, sans-central-control.
• I would recommend folks read your book. What other books would you commend to our readers’ attention?
Thanks! Without a doubt, Hologram of Liberty is a must-read. Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare is essential for understanding when the time is right. A lot of people (typically the lily-whites) won’t read it because they think it will send their souls straight to Marxist hell, but the man was an expert in the art. There is a reason that book is on the USMC reading list for officers. Regarding Che, I think he is a great example of the stunning contrast between success and failure. His best success (Cuba) was based on energizing the populace. But, Bolivia instituted agrarian reforms (think welfare, social security, pensions, etc.). He was killed there because he failed to recognize that he couldn’t energize a populace that was contented with poverty and a tolerable level of oppression. We are in Bolivia today. The Marxism and his military experience is window-dressing. I believe that we are steered away from Che to avoid learning from his mistake. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is a good read, but replace all the references to employees with the incorporated contractor idea I mentioned earlier. Teach the kids some science and math, because electromagnetism will still work, and pumps and motors beat doing anything by hand.