The Gardens of Democracy

I am contemplating reading the book, The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government.  Here’s the overview from Barnes & Noble:


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.


6 thoughts on “The Gardens of Democracy

  1. Hello Muddy,
    I know this is off topic and I apologize in advance, but I thought I would pass on this interesting bit of facts because on this day, February 6, 1974, President Richard Nixon sent a “Special Message to the Congress” asking them to pass his “Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan.”

    The letter to Congress started off like this….

    “To the Congress of the United States:
    One of the most cherished goals of our democracy is to assure every American an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life.”

    It then goes onto say:
    “Now it is time that we move forward again in still another critical area: health care.
    Without adequate health care, no one can make full use of his or her talents and opportunities. It is thus just as important that economic, racial and social barriers not stand in the way of “GOOD HEALTH CARE” as it is to eliminate those barriers to a good education and a good job.”

    The rest of the letter is on the link below.

    YES!!! 38 years ago Republican President Richard Nixon proposed and pleaded with Congress to pass his Obamacare!!

    1. That was then, Engineer, when your party was known as the GRAND Old Party. Sadly the band of pirates holding your party hostage don’t give a rat’s ass about things like that. They want power, pure and simple. They are not interested in governing, only on holding the President and Congress hostage.

      Thanks for the reminder and the link.

      By the way, it actually is NOT off-topic because the book suggests that democracy must be tended like a garden, not bulldozed out of existence.

      1. Well, apparently unions are not in the “garden”. Lately, Engineer, MD, and M_R have made some comments about unions. And, it
        seems to me that a country without unions is missing a very
        important component of its overall healthy environment.

        One of the areas in which the Federal Government along with now
        State and Local governments have enabled income inequality
        after the 1970s has been through its negative treatment of labor
        unions. The last 30 years have seen a steady decline of organized
        labor, unionism. In 1950 about 33% of private corporation workers
        were in unions, today it is 7%. In that time, public unions have
        increased to about 25% of workers.

        However, the decline in private sector unions is more
        significant becasue it has meant that income inequality has occurred
        in the form of the loss of higher wages and benefits, especially
        health care and retirement. The private workers are the losers,
        and the corporations are the winners. And, politically, it was
        union membership that pushed governments on all levels to
        address middle-class economic concerns. Until 1980 unions
        had done well in holding corporations in check because politicains
        were elected by union members in the large states. American
        manufacturing was primarily located in the large industrial states
        of the North and West Coast geographic areas.

        An important political event ocurred in 1978 under Pres.
        Carter which demonstrated that unionization had begun to lose
        the political battle. The Democrats had big majorities in both
        Houses of Congress, and a significant pro-union bill making it
        easier to unionize passed the House overwhelmingly. While it
        had majority support in the Senate, it failed because of the
        infamous 60 vote rule. The Senate super majority rule demonstrated
        that business now had the upper hand. It signified that the
        corporations are pretty well assured that goveernments will no longer
        side with workers. To demonstate this, in 1981 President Reagan
        was able to crush the air traffic controllers strike with barely a
        wimper from Congress or the American people. The Reagan
        Administration then turned its attention to the NLRB and began
        stacking it with pro-business adherents. For the next 30 years
        the Federal Government has been in an union advoidance stance
        by making union organizing very difficult. In this manner,
        governments on all levels have deserted the working class and
        encouragement of union activity. Democratic and Republican
        Congress and Presidents have enabled the tremendous growth of
        the 1% wealth, and at the same time pushed unions and workers
        to the 99% and many of them out of the middle-class.

        Now, as if on cue in preparing my comment, the House and the
        Senate have just driven another nail into the union coffin. Just
        yesterday, the Senate passed a needed FAA ReAuthorization Bill.
        What was not needed was a clause that increases the number of
        workers needed to sign up for a company election to determine
        whether workers want a union to bargain for them from 35% to
        50% of all workers. The vote in the Senate was 75-20, with a
        majority of Dems voting in favor. The question now is what will
        the President do?

        1. UptheFlag writes, The private workers are the losers,
          and the corporations are the winners

          How many of these ‘private workers’ do you think continually vote against their best financial interests? It’s the theme of the book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, which documents the fact that Kansans, once independent individualists with a pro-worker history, have now fallen on their knees and worship at the altar of evangelical Christians who feed them red herring.

          The word, pathetic, does not come close to what happened to Kansans.

          Expand that nationwide to the Right-wing Propaganda Machine which fills the AM airwaves 24/7 with an anti-union, pro-business propaganda, mindlessly absorbed by the dumbed-down listeners. What other outcome can you expect, my friend??

          1. M_R, maybe something got lost in the translation…By private workers, I meant union workers working in private corporations like
            airlines, or steel, or automobiles. I think many of them are voters and do not vote against their interests.

            However, my friend, it seems that you may have missed the full
            thrust of my comment.

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