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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government [Kindle Edition]

Eric Liu , Nick Hanauer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


"Liu and Hanauer have proposed a powerful new way to think about how society works and there is a lot here for conservatives to work with and debate." --Noah Kristula-Green, The Daily Beast

The Gardens of Democracy provides a refreshing new conceptual approach to understanding our economic and political situation, and it will help us move past the fossilized ideas in today’s public debates.”--Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order

“Society is a garden. Liu and Hanauer’s simple metaphor makes the complexities and limits of social policy emerge before your eyes. Statists can’t see the interconnections of organic systems. Free marketers can’t see that a garden needs some tending. If you’re looking for a way forward out of America’s dangerous gridlock, read this wonderful book.”--Jonathan Haidt, Professor of psychology, University of Virginia and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

“Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer are progressives who always think outside the box, and that’s why everyone should pay attention to them. The Gardens of Democracy shakes up our stale debate over government’s role in a dynamic society, and in a thoughtful, creative and inventive way. Everyone will find something to disagree with here, and that’s the point: getting us out of our comfort zones is an immensely useful democratic undertaking.”--E.J. Dionne Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics

"I just read a remarkable book by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. It is The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government.  I highly recommend it as a big gust of fresh air to clear out the dense, stale, gases we have all been breathing when it comes to how we talk about politics and citizenship. It is time to break out of the prison of left/right thinking that has made politics so mean spirited in recent years... There is something in this new metaphor for both the left and the right."--Ray Smock, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

"Even if you don't agree with everything the authors propose, you will find 'The Gardens of Democracy' to be spirited and thought provoking."--The Bellingham Herald


Product Details

  • File Size: 762 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books (December 6, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0061S3UMA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,413 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Big What, Small How" December 4, 2011
Like its predecessor "The True Patriot," this book is hugely thought-provoking. Quoting from the first chapter:

"If you can hold these paired thoughts in your head, we wrote this book for you:

- The federal government spends too much money. The wealthy should pay more taxes.

- Every American should have access to high-quality health care. We spend far too much on health care.

- We need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to ensure that our economy continues to grow.

- Unions are a crucially important part of our economy and society. Unions have become overly protectionist and are in need of enormous amounts of reform.

- We need strong government. We need strong citizens."

Liu and Hanauer advocate "Big What, Small How" government, in contrast to the "small/small" of the right and the "big/big" of the left.

This book is a quick read that will make you think.

See Hanauer's recent Bloomberg op-ed:
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are you sure about that? December 13, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Though somewhat-rightly lampooned for it, Donald Rumsfeld's infamous quote about being aware of "known unknowns", "unknown unknowns", and the like, is a useful way to open discussion about this very well-made and thought-provoking new book by Nick Hanauer, a member of the 0.1%, and Eric Liu, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton and civic entrepreneur. Our economy and government are far more dynamic and networked and reciprocal than probably most of us realize ... maybe we don't have to constantly fight with each other. It is not either/or. It could be a choice between "win-win" or "lose-lose". Why struggle so hard and live meanly if we are in effect racing to the bottom?

One thing to appreciate about the book is that it is short enough to read in one sitting, with or without a nice pot o' tea, and its construction might remind one of books you checked out from the school library when you were still in your single-digits.

Simple, concise can also be deep and can change the way you look at things. And this book does not promote one grand narrative or ideology, but does insist on each of us to take more responsibility for the outcomes in our communities and our country. And trust me it will prompt you to re-think at least a few assumptions.

We are at a crucial point in the evolution of the American experiment. Some people are wallowing in profound cynicism when it comes to all government, some people have been profiting at an astronomical rate in the last 30 years (for instance, co-author Hanauer), the middle class is suffering (unquestionably, no matter how you analyze it), "Gridlock!" everywhere you look, the military-industrial complex is a whole other subject ... and yet choosing to be hopeless or ignorant may not be the best way to go forward.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read this book anyway... February 11, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you find yourself viewing this page, you should probably read this book. I wish it were more intellectually written, you'll endure some rough - albeit, zealously heartfelt - edges but I believe it contains some important ideas.

This is much more like a long pamphlet (in the sense of the word during our revolution) than a short book. I heard Nick Hanauer on NPR and was fascinated by his ideas so I got the book. I give the book 3 starts because the writing is simplified a bit too much for my taste. Also the book is ocassionally utopian; one example proposes that the thoughtful caring constructive civic minded attitude of an individual can change the course of a nation. I believe that an individual's attitude is very important in affecting change yet there are limitations. I liken civic life, and particularly politics as being much more like football. Thoughts of "yes I can, yes I can", are equally met with thoughts of "no you won't, no you won't" (wittness our current political atmosphere). It's a fact of life, to succeed means being prepared for this in wide variety of ways.

Nevertheless, if you have been drawn to this book for any reason, you should read it! The ideas are valid and important. There is great reference material cited at the end. It is forward thinking. Leave the rough edges aside and run with the ideas you value. In our country, there is the barest sense of a hint of a possibility that big change could be in its conception right now. Some of the ideas presented here are bound to be in play.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Horticulture to the Rescue January 6, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book offers a uniquely original concept of how the clearly dysfunctional U.S. system of governance can be transformed. Its authors conceptualize the current system by what they term "machinebrain", that is a system that is predicated on predictability, stability, and (a false) efficiency. Democracy as what used be called a clockwork mechanism. They contrast this to what they call "gardenbrain." That is a system of governance based on globally distributed interdependent sub-systems identified as by such titles `networks of social contagion' and `webs of economic growth'. Unlike the "machinebrain" world view, the "gardenbrain" world view is predicated on instability and unpredictability. Democracy if you will as a garden that needs constant tending such as weeding out bad ideas and cultivating good ones.

Perhaps one of the most interesting themes in this book is its arguments against libertarianism and more specifically (but never attributed) the late Ayn Rand's conception of the virtue of selfishness. The authors argue that societies and nations prosper and thrive when individual needs are balanced against social needs. They also interestingly argue that the current ideology that pits "big" government arguments against "small" government arguments makes no sense. That it is really an issue of government "big" in some ways (like providing national goals) and "small" in others (like allowing local people to figure out how to achieve those goals).

This is a small book, but is crammed full of original and important ideas on how to transform and indeed save our democracy. Worth a read by anyone who cares for the republic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 8 days ago by Namaste
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so great
Not as promising as the title and quite redundant
Published 1 month ago by Richmond
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect!!!
If you're interested in the economy, politics and the perils of tickle-down economics, then read this book! It has a clear liberal bias but states the truth at the same time.
Published 1 month ago by Sara
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great book for government course
Published 2 months ago by John L Hull Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is a must read for those who question the polarization of our country.
Published 2 months ago by gareth
3.0 out of 5 stars This is a very good book but people are so polarized now that even ...
This is a very good book but people are so polarized now that even good ideas aren't accepted. They need to write a sequel that bridges the divide then the policies in this book... Read more
Published 3 months ago by paul lee
4.0 out of 5 stars redefining capitalism
A short book that seeks to redefine capitalism and civic responsibility along the lines of complex chaotic systems theory. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dan Allosso
5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary book!
What a visionary work. Great book full of incredible ideas. If our democratic system worked using these ideas as the framework, we as citizens of the US would all be in a truly... Read more
Published 6 months ago by EDaddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent down to earth book on democracy and a healthy economy.
Published 6 months ago by paul l. markl
1.0 out of 5 stars Yawn
Tired ideas repackaged with a populist bow.
Published 6 months ago by ryan
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