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March 21, 2008

A New Deal of Their Own

The March issue of The American Prospect carries a special report, "Mobilizing Millennials: Will Their Economic Raw Deal Fuel the Next New Deal?" in which I have an article, "A New Deal of Their Own." Here I pursue a theme that I have raised in Freedom's Power and in a series of articles (see my earlier post on "The Idea of a Young America Program").

The persistent problems among America's children are well known. What's less widely appreciated is that during the past 35 years these problems have increasingly extended into young adulthood. But not all age groups have seen their fortunes sink; the economic situation of the elderly has improved markedly, thanks in large measure to public policy. I argue:
As this contrast suggests, the difficulties facing the young generally -- both children and young adults -- are the result of long-standing limitations in social policy whose effects have been aggravated by recent changes in the economy and the family. The three great waves of social reform since the 1930s -- the New Deal, the post-World War II GI Bill, and the Great Society -- failed to establish durable policies in support of the young.
It's this historical point that is the key contribution of this piece. Each of these previous eras of reform in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s originally included a substantial component targeted to young adults. But unlike the programs for the elderly, the programs for the young were never successfully institutionalized, and those that have remained have been supported by discretionary spending and proved far more vulnerable to cutbacks during recessions.

How to remedy that problem? I've offered several proposals. The first step, however, may be recognition by the young themselves that America hasn't done right by them and that they need a new deal of their own.

Young people interested in these issues should consider attending a conference of the Roosevelt Institution April 9 in Washington D.C.: "Toward a New New Deal: FDR's Liberalism and the Future of American Democracy."

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December 20, 2007

A Road Map to the Start of a New America

In a new article in the January-February 2008 American Prospect, “The Democrats’ Strategic Challenge,” I try to set out what the Democrats could accomplish if they win the election and take control of the White House and Congress. The way forward, I suggest, will be “difficult, if not positively treacherous” because of the legacy of the Bush years both abroad and at home. Much will depend on whether Democrats can increase their currently tiny majorities in Congress, especially in the Senate.

But, despite these difficulties, there are practical steps that the Democrats could take in the first two years of a new administration to begin addressing some of the daunting problems that America and the world face. My two examples are policies concerned with restoring an economy of shared prosperity and meeting the threat of global warming.

None of the measures that I discuss is original. Just the opposite: They are now virtually all matters of substantial agreement among the major Democratic presidential candidates and Democratic congressional leaders.

And this is precisely why a new Democratic government could get some important things done. The intellectual ground has been prepared, many of the details have been fleshed out, and in some areas legislation has already been written and debated. Yet, amidst the usual political back-biting of the primary season, there is very little awareness about this emerging programmatic consensus.

Other articles in the same issue of the Prospect also address what “the Democrats could--and should--do to change the country and save the planet.”

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September 15, 2007

The New Liberal Opportunity

In its September 7 issue, The Chronicle of Higher Education features a review essay by E. J. Dionne Jr. on "The Liberal Moment," to which Todd Gitlin, Alan Wolfe, and I each offer our responses. I detect very little difference among us, which is another gift of the conservative implosion. As the Bush years come to a close, we are all clearer about liberal principles and the political realities that need to be reckoned with if America is to come closer to those ideals.

The core paragraphs of my piece, "The Liberal Opportunity," (also available here) are as follows:

What liberals now have is not a mandate but an opportunity -- actually, three kinds of opportunity. The first is an immediate political opportunity to help Democrats win the next election and reverse the current administration's policies abroad, assaults on constitutional liberties, and weakening of regulatory protections of health, safety, labor, and the environment.

The second is a strategic opportunity to address long-term problems such as rising economic inequality and global warming that conservatives have downplayed or denied and neglected.

And the third is an opportunity -- call it an intellectual or ideological opportunity -- to rebuild a base of popular support for liberal ideas by reopening a conversation with people who believe that liberals have not shown them any concern or respect and by redefining what liberalism means in the minds of a new generation.

The first of these opportunities naturally absorbs most of the immediate attention. But if Democrats win in 2008, the historical significance of that victory will depend on whether they can seize the strategic and ideological opportunities to deal with the nation's long-run problems and create the basis for a durable political majority.

And that is where ideas can potentially make the biggest difference.

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June 24, 2007

Why Immigration Reform Matters

"While a small number of illegal residents or temporary workers may raise ethical questions, a large population with no rights or security undermines the rule of law, the rights of citizens, and the working of democracy. The law cannot offer equal protection to all when there are millions of people for whom it offers no protection whatsoever." From a new column of mine in the July-August issue of The American Prospect.

Paul Starr

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April 23, 2007

The idea of a Young America program

A new column of mine proposing a Young America program appears today in Campus Progress, the online student magazine of the Center for American Progress. The column draws on material from the last chapter of Freedom’s Power and argues that social policy ought to focus resources on the young. As the GI bill provided a tremendous boost to American society after World War II by enabling young veterans and their families to obtain higher education, job training, health care, and mortgages, so we ought today to help the young invest in their own—and thereby the nation’s—future.

The proposal for a Young America program builds on ideas that have been circulating for a while calling for new policies benefiting children. The difference here is more of an emphasis on young adults.

Fifteen years ago, in January 1992, I gave a speech to the National Academy of Social Insurance called “A New Deal for the Young” (a phrase I’ve continued to use). The speech was buried in the academy’s annual conference proceedings, and I didn’t do anything further with it because I was soon preoccupied with health policy in the Clinton administration.

But I’ve now posted “A New Deal for the Young” on my Princeton web site because nearly all of it continues to be relevant.

The key historical point is that the original New Deal and other programs of that era assumed that the traditional family would continue to be the predominant form and did not anticipate the radically different social world we inhabit today. Moreover, the primary legacy of the New Deal, particularly in a fiscal sense, has been the old-age pension system of Social Security as well as the Medicare program added to it in 1965.

After the mid-1960s, federal social spending shifted markedly toward the aged. Children and young adults have been relatively ill-served. As I point out in the column:

A variety of social indicators show the results. Just this past month, UNICEF brought together data on poverty rates, health, social behavior, families, and peer relationships in a study of the well-being of children and adolescents in 21 rich countries. In the overall ranking, the United States came in next to last.

To remedy these failings, we should be doing more to improve early childhood education and other policies affecting young children. But we should also be thinking about their parents—and the young people who will be parents not long from now.

As I did 15 years ago, I continue to argue for basing at least some elements of such a policy in a “norm of reciprocity.” Rather than simply hand out benefits, we ought to make them contingent on one or another form of national service. Where benefits are earned, they have far more chance of being thought legitimate.

This analysis ties in with the general ideas of Freedom’s Power:

The premise of a Young America program would be the inclusive conception of freedom and power that are at the core of modern liberalism. An increasingly unequal America that exposes so many of its young to poverty and insecurity cannot be the strong and prosperous nation all Americans want it to be. Government can be the means for expanding the horizon of freedom, creating opportunity, and making a society both more powerful and more just. The world used to think of America as a country where the young had possibilities unmatched anywhere else. The United States could be that country again.

P.S. For reaction to the proposal, check out what Ganesh Sitaraman has to say at TPM Cafe: "This is a bold idea – and one that could do a lot for the next generation of Americans." There are also more comments there, pro and con.

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April 15, 2007

Why Liberalism Works

The April issue of The American Prospect carries a condensed version of some of the key arguments in Freedom’s Power. Triumphal conservatism had its moment. But, as I write in the piece,

No one, not even conservatives, doubts that conservatism is now in deep trouble:
divided, uncertain of itself, and with a lot of explaining to do for the fiasco
in Iraq. Yet the exhaustion of conservatism is not tantamount to a liberal
revival. The Bush administration's manifest failures and the Democrats' triumph
in the 2006 elections have created a new opening for liberal argument. The
question is now whether liberals can make their case not just for specific
policies and candidates but for an alternative public philosophy.
My article, “Why Liberalism Works,” attempts to outline that philosophy and relate to the challenges we face today. The full version of that argument is laid out in the book, Freedom’s Power.

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February 23, 2007

War and liberalism

I've got a new essay, "War and Liberalism," just out in The New Republic.

The main argument of the piece is that historically liberal government "has turned out to be stronger and more effective in war than its adversaries have expected, and ... more resilient under the pressures of war than liberals themselves have feared."

One of the main reasons that democracies have a better record in war than dictatorships do is that democracies rarely begin wars that they cannot win, and win quickly According to the historical pattern, the Iraq War should never have happened. Why it did and why it has gone so badly and done so much damage to America's interests are all immensely revealing about what is wrong with the conservatism of the Bush era.

Here is the concluding paragraph:
There is a different way of thinking about power from the one that conservatives in the Bush era have championed, and that way of thinking grows out of the liberal tradition and historical experience. The crucial historical lesson is not that liberal principles and public debate must give way in war for the sake of national defense: constitutionally limited power has proved to be more powerful than unlimited power. Democratic partnerships at home and abroad are critical to the nation's strength. America has risen to its current position partly on the basis of these ideas, and staying true to them would be a victory in itself.

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February 21, 2007

Congressional battleground

I have a new column just out, "Congressional Battleground," from the March issue of The American Prospect, arguing that to get the additional votes in the Senate needed to change policy in Iraq, Democrats and opponents of the war ought to focus on states with vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2008. I wrote this piece on February 11, before the Senate vote on the 17th that fell three votes short of the margin needed to close off debate.

In arguing that this winter's debate on the war is just a rehearsal for a major confrontation with the president to come later this year or early next, I was assuming that Democrats would not be able to get the support in the next several weeks or months to limit the war through an appropriations bill, which would need only 51 votes in the Senate. We'll see whether that expectation turns out to be right.

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December 26, 2006

Earlier related articles