The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government
Book Description, Amazon.com
"American democracy is informed by the 18th century’s most cutting edge thinking on society, economics, and government. We’ve learned some things in the intervening 230 years about self interest, social behaviors, and how the world works. Now, authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that some fundamental assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating. For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer view democracy not as a machine, but as a garden. A successful garden functions according to the inexorable tendencies of nature, but it also requires goals, regular tending, and an understanding of connected ecosystems. The latest ideas from science, social science, and economics—the cutting-edge ideas of today--generate these simple but revolutionary ideas:
True self interest is mutual interest. (Society, it turns out, is an ecosystem that is healthiest when we take care of the whole.)
Society becomes how we behave. (The model of citizenship depends on contagious behavior, hence positive behavior begets positive behavior.)
We’re all better off when we’re all better off. (The economy is not an efficient machine. It’s an effective garden that need tending. Adjust the definition of wealth to society creating solutions for all.)
Government should be about the big what and the little how. (Government should establish the ideas and the goals, and then let the people find the solutions of how to make it happen.)
Freedom is responsibility. (True freedom is not about living some variant of libertarianism but rather an active cooperation a part of a big whole society; freedom costs a little freedom.)
The Gardens of Democracy is an optimistic, provocative, and timely summons to improve our role as citizens in a democratic society."
A New Theory of Democracy
by David Frum via The Daily Beast
"Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer want to change the way Americans think about politics, and they want to do this with a new metaphor to describe how governance should work. This is the premise behind their new book, The Gardens of Democracy: that Americans politics can be greatly improved if we can agree that the country is like a garden.
Real gardens need to be tended to and cared for, but they are also alive and must be left alone to actually grow. Liu and Hanauer see a similar way to govern America: tend to the big objectives (for example, creating a green energy industry) and make sure the garden has no weeds, but don't try to micromanage each individual.
Liu and Hanauer write their book from the left-hand side of politics but are the arguments in this book applicable to both sides of the spectrum? Or will the right find this view completely objectionable? While the book makes its argument from a strong liberal and progressive background, this does not mean conservatives and the center-right have no claim to these ideas.
The metaphor that America is like a garden is not a gimmick, but powerful refutation of neoclassical economics. If you think that human beings are atomized individuals who only make rational decisions in a marketplace with the goal of maximizing their utility, Liu and Hanauer will not only disagree, they will argue that science has proven that view to be wrong.
Gardens of Democracy is like a Cliff Notes for the major advancements in social science that have occurred in the modern era. Liu and Hanauer are interested in presenting readers with summaries of major research that has occurred to justify their view that humans are much more social and co-dependent then we previously assumed.
The book provides quick overviews of where the research has lead us. (David Brooks The Social Animal is summed up as about how "Behavior is contagious, often unconsciously and unpredictably so." The field of behavioral science is described as "pulling us back to common sense and reminding us that people are often irrational to at least a-rational and emotional.") These summaries are short but the book does provides a reading list to set you up for further independent research.
So the question for the American right is, do you buy the premise and then argue over the implementation, or do you refute the premise entirely?"