My rating: 4 of 5 stars a review by Steve Bivans
Co-written by an ex-presidential speech writer (Liu) and a dot.com billionaire (Hanauer), Gardens of Democracy lays out their plan for a new, or revised, form of American democracy, that promises to solve the crises that now face the United States, if not the world at large.
Hanauer and Liu argue that the system of government as it has devolved in the U.S., has allowed the upper 1% to accrue the lion’s share of wealth, while gutting the middle class to the point of extinction. This, they argue, is not only morally wrong, but fiscally stupid. They contend, correctly, that wealth does not evolve from the top and trickle down (as so many still think), but rather is created in the middle class, and trickles upward.
The current economic mode of thought is rooted in the industrial revolution: a philosophy that the authors call ‘machine brain’. They define this as a tendency to see things in a linear, input/output way. People, economies and systems work like machines. This is obviously wrong, Hanauer and Liu argue. Consumers make choices, mostly based on emotions, wants and desires. One cannot accurately predict what they will want, or do in any given moment.
Liu and Hanauer argue that instead of machine brain, we should think more on the lines of ‘garden brain.’ Instead of treating economies and government like machines, we should think of them as gardens. Gardens cannot be wholly predicted. A gardener can plant seeds, but not predict the outcome. He may, however, weed the garden, water it, and tend it. To let it go, laissez faire, would be to invite weeds to take over. This is what has led to the imbalance of wealth in modern capitalism, according to the authors.
The authors contend that it is the role of good government, or good gardening, to recirculate (not redistribute or ‘spend’) wealth, from those that have benefited most from the infrastructure and security that government affords, back into the system to reinvest it in more and better infrastructure that benefits all citizens, starting with the middle class. This, they argue, will benefit not only those at the bottom of the economic ladder, but put wealth back into the hands of a strengthened middle class, who will in turn spend it, fueling the economy which benefits the wealthy as well.
They vigorously attack Libertarian ideals that ‘any government’ is too much government, or the idea that all forms of governing are somehow tantamount to communism. They take on the Republicans, who have co-opted much of the Libertarian mentality, as well as the Democrats who have on the one hand argued for more government involvement, but made little changes—even when they had the chance—to the underlying assumptions about how capitalism is supposed to work, i.e., they basically buy into the machine brain mentality.
The authors argue that good democratic government can be big on the WHAT—in other words, set out a theory of what government should do, and the goals that the nation, state, or municipality, should aim for (something that the Democrats might agree to)—but small on the HOW to accomplish those things—not micromanaging from the center, or top, but giving power to the local governments to adapt resources to their particular situations—something that Republicans argue for.
Liu and Hanauer acknowledge that in order to accomplish all these changes, major issues of corruption in government must be dealt with. The problem is that their solutions to this problem, while great in theory—they do a damned good job of laying out the issues—are blocked by the very corruption they set out to solve. How does one push through major changes to government, changes that would eliminate corruption, when you need the corrupt institution to make the changes?
It’s a Catch 22, and I suspect that Hanauer and Liu know this. I also suspect that they know what must really happen in order to clean up the corruption at the highest levels, since it is corporate money fueling it, but that since Hanauer himself, is a product of corporate money, and a believer in the American Economy, is loathe to articulate it. Instead, Hanauer and Liu’s book seems to be an appeal to the one-percenters to ‘lay off,’ so to speak, and to start thinking about government and taxes as a way to refuel an economy that is dying, something that will not benefit them in the end.
The radical nature of Hanauer and Liu’s argument isn’t so much in the actual ideas put forward, which are reasonable, sound and logical. What’s radical, is who is writing it, especially Hanauer, who is firmly in the top .01% of the billionaire club! He is an insider to a world that most of us simply cannot imagine. But he has an unusual interest in history, for one so privileged, and as such, can read the writing on the wall if things remain the same. His insider perspective is refreshing. If you want to know more about his position on issues, I would suggest reading his article, “The Pitchforks are Coming,” online HERE. It’s an eye-opener for sure, and the reason I stumbled onto his book in the first place.
All in all, this is a book that everyone in America should read. The plan laid out is neither Conservative or Liberal, but Reasonable. Maybe there needs to be another political party? The Reasonable Party? The plan they lay out in Gardens of Democracy should be implemented, immediately. I doubt it will be, due to the corruption that blocks such decisions. Maybe the book will reach enough of Mr. Hanauer’s peers to make a difference, since they are the ones corrupting the system. I hope so, for all our sakes. We could stand for some weeding out in the current Garden of Corruption.