Book Review: Starving the Monkeys (2009)

Fight back smarter
by Tom Baugh

Tom Baugh is a Free Stater, and I met him at the 2010 Liberty Forum in Nashua, New Hampshire—New Hampshire being the Free State. I don’t believe he has moved yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time. When you attend a Free State event such as a Liberty Forum in the late winter or a Porcupine Festival in the summer, it’s easy to spot the Real McCoy, so to speak, when it comes to the frontline types of the Free State ‘movement.’

Baugh is the Real McCoy… straight shooter, look you in the eye, don’t tread on me, etc. And yes, like ~60% of the men and ~20% of the women at public events like this one, he’s packing heat. When you’ve been around so many individuals like Tom, even on twice-a-year schedule, it dawns on you that New Hampshire did not become the Free State by accident. You also begin to see that the reasons the country is going down the tubes have everything to do with the deliberate barriers to individuals like Tom who would naturally rise to political leadership… in favor of, well, “the monkeys” who pretend to be in charge.

“Hey, hey, they’re the monkeys”

After noting the title and getting 10s of pages into Starving the Monkeys, I did not find myself getting close to locating Tom’s definition or description of exactly what he means by the term ‘monkeys.’ Clearly he’s using monkeys as a (pejorative) metaphor. He’s not advocating we go to the zoo and refrain from throwing peanuts in the cages. He often uses the term monkey, such as here in the beginning of Chapter 6: The Font of Value:

“These principles are valid today, but often disguised underneath a veil of obstacles designed to suck value out of you and feed it to various classes of monkeys.”

And from reading such sentences and, then, between the lines, one comes to understand how “monkeys” is being used and that it ties in with the theme of the book. Here’s what I come away with as that theme:

  1. There are a few creative people, individualists and hard workers, who form the mainspring of human progress[1]. These mainspring people and other honest ones who work and trade and leave the mainspring people alone, and don’t try to cheat them or bury them in coercive rules and paperwork, and who stand up courageously for reason and freedom, are humans. These are us, for the most part.
  2. Everyone besides the mainspring ones and their honest allies is a monkey, which—basically being dishonest and engaging in monkey business—has various disguises, and indulges in a lot of pretense in order to survive… surviving only thanks to the mainspring ones.

In more conventional libertarian lexicon: 1 = the productive class, and 2 = the political class (monkeys, what Baugh wants to starve). Who doesn’t! The general theme of Starving the Monkeys coincides with the general understanding of most people in the freedom movement that the creative individual must free himself or overcome the thieving, leveling collective; Baugh’s book—I believe his first, hopefully not his last—is a worthy homespun addition to the literature of liberation.

What I mean by homespun is we get a lot of background for Tom’s analysis and conclusions from his own remarkable life—initially from high school, then the military (graduating the Naval Academy), and, following that, as a small business owner in a computer-related field. He recounts his experiences all along, especially where others tried to fool him or use him. The connection to the Naval Academy reminds me of Robert A. Heinlein, the famous science fiction author who graduated Annapolis 1929… and who had a deep appreciation of the finer qualities of military work, not the bloated-welfare-bureaucracy military that we’re more aware of today.

Starving the Monkeys is not a fictional work, so Baugh’s resemblance to Heinlein lies mainly in their military commonality, wide range of practical and theoretical knowledge, and hard-headed patriotism. These are great attributes, and Baugh writes well. I especially like his text box references to other authors and art works, such as Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations), Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged), Karl Marx (Communist Manifesto), and several others—including specific Internet searches. What does all the prose lead to, what is the prescription besides the common-sense denial of sustenance to the monkeys? Here’s a poetic passage:

So the solution?

Simply give up and accept your place in the service of the collective?

Nope. There is a way out, regardless of your expertise and position in life. And it is simple.

Redefine success.

Appreciate success as control of your life. Enjoy the ticks of the day with those you love the most. Enjoy exploring God’s nature and appreciating the beauty.

Start your own business doing whatever it is which improves the quality of life for others, and which they are willing to pay you for. Trade your effort for theirs and you both win. Don’t see yourself as a specific business, but instead commit yourself to destroying the monkeys economically by doing whatever they get paid for, only better, cheaper, faster, and with less drama. But don’t hire a single soul.

Enjoy denying the monkeys the fruit of your effort. Provide for your needs, and as much more as you wish, but not enough more so that you get sucked in again to their web. — page 311

A better prescription for handling monkeys and making progress in a manly way is not to be found. And I do recommend the book for all the reasons cited. Yet in conclusion I must put my literary critic hat on and list a few reservations:

    1. The book is too long and contains too much abstruse lower-level technical analysis—for instance, there’s a long discussion of energy technology—and the type is too small. Uninviting qualities in a world already eschewing reading for pleasure, much more, for knowledge.
    2. Similar to item A, the average reader who makes a habit of reading every word in a book will feel bogged down by what often seems like a core dump of detail, along with graphs, idiosyncratic cavemen-society analogies, and even differential equations. (!)
    3. In a word, what I feel is missing in Starving the Monkeys is a (more coherent, simple, structured, defined) message delivered in a conversational tone that focuses on what the reader wants to know, rather than the understanding the writer wants to convey. The book seems to lack a clear idea of who it wants to be, a treatise or an Orwellian satire.

Please know that these criticisms are offered respectfully, and Monkeys is a worthwhile read. What I’d like to see is more writers, specifically nonfiction popular-book writers, in the freedom movement: Until we crack this nut of intellectual stature in our culture, the freedom movement will always be a poor step child that everyone feels they can diss. Further, I’d like to see writers who have achieved a modest amount of celebrity within the SunFLOWerlittle pond of the “Libertarian Industry” help aspiring freedom authors wade out into the Big Pond and achieve true, worldly success. Baugh can certainly become one of these successes.


[1] Who remembers the 1947 conservative classic by Henry Grady Weaver of the same title: The Mainspring of Human Progress?


This post has been read 990 times!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *