Books : reviews

Eric Liu, Nick Hanauer.
The Gardens of Democracy: a new American story of citizenship, the economy, and the role of government.
Sasquatch Books. 2011

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 3 June 2021

This slim volume lays out a new vision for (American) politics. This has two bases: a vision of a society engineered to help all thrive, and a claim that such engineering needs to be based on a gardening metaphor of flexible and responsive tending and guiding, rather than a machine metaphor of rigid design and control.

The authors argue that this can lead to a society where everyone (individually) is better off when everyone (en masse) is better off. They critique both ‘small government’ libertarian-style right-wing politics (which they dub ‘small what, small how’: no vision, no implementation) and ‘big government’ left-wing politics (’big what, big how’: big vision, top down implementation). Instead, they advocate for a ‘big what, small how’ style: government with a big vision setting the goals, with a devolved flexible implementation by responsible citizens.

The message is clear and worthy, but the route forward is somewhat lacking. Also, the very US-centric message is somewhat drowned out by subsequent political events there. The more detailed Doughnut Economics takes a similar systems view, but has a global perspective.