Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the Bancroft Prize in American history, he is the author of eight books, including Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (Yale University Press, May 2019).

Recent Articles

The Medicare Bind

Medicare now faces a more uncertain future than at any time in its history. That’s not because it has lost popularity or failed to control costs as effectively as private insurance has. On the contrary, the program continues to enjoy overwhelming public support, and since the late 1990s, its costs per beneficiary have grown more slowly than those of private insurers. Nor does Medicare confront an imminent crisis; in fact, its costs have decelerated in the past year. But with the aging of the baby-boom generation and the general trend toward higher health expenditures, federal spending on Medicare is set to increase sharply over the next decade, making it a prime target for deficit reduction. Seizing on projected deficits as their rationale, Republicans have called for a drastic solution: eliminating the traditional, public Medicare program in favor of a voucher for private insurance, which would save the government money by paying a diminished share of health costs and shifting...

Obama's Fate -- and Ours

We're about to find out if the president is a Jimmy Carter or a Harry Truman. The scary part is it may not make a difference in the 2012 election.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(A sneak peak at our upcoming November issue) Will he go down in history as a Jimmy Carter or a Harry Truman? As a weak and indecisive Democratic president who ushered in a conservative era or as a strong leader who proved his critics wrong and won re-election? The next year will resolve that question about Barack Obama, but the answer may no longer depend on forces that he can control, if it ever did. For much of the past year, Obama was doing his best Carter imitation: cerebral and detached, unable or unwilling to articulate a clear and forceful Democratic message, steadily losing support as the economy stagnated. In his negotiations with congressional Republicans over the budget and debt ceiling, the president conceded too much too quickly and allowed his adversaries to set the terms of discussion. The White House insisted it knew what it was doing: claiming the center in the critical effort to win over independents. But Obama's concessions mainly helped move the center to the...

The Ultimate Republican Threat

The Constitution did not omit limits on taxes and borrowing because of an oversight.

(Rex Features via AP Images)
It is one of the anomalies of today's politics: The party that professes absolute fealty to the Constitution in its original form is also the most eager to change it. Exhibit A is the amendment pushed by Republicans to require a balanced budget every year, cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product, and bar any increase in taxes without a supermajority of two-thirds of Congress or any increase in the national debt without a supermajority of three-fifths. The immediate explanation for the amendment may seem obvious. Republicans in Congress want to please their party's base. But why is the base so interested in putting government in a straitjacket? A party that sees itself as likely to win future elections is generally not interested in limiting its own powers. But according to Ran Hirschl, a legal scholar in the field of comparative law, parties expecting their fortunes to decline often attempt to entrench their views in constitutional provisions while they have the...

The Manichean World of Tim Wu

For the past dozen years, several distinguished thinkers about law and technology have warned that a golden age of Internet freedom may be about to close. The most influential alarm-ringer has been Lawrence Lessig, who argued in his 1999 book, Code , that under corporate and governmental pressures, the Net could be flipped to serve top-down control instead of individual freedom. In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008), Jonathan Zittrain showed why this reversal might come about as a result of popular demand. Both the personal computer and the Internet are what Zittrain calls "generative" technologies, free to be built on without corporate or governmental permission. Besides generating positive innovations, however, these technologies invite viruses and other mischief, which drive people toward safe, reliable "information appliances" tethered to particular companies (think Apple's iPhone). Those appliances may be not just convenient but even dazzling in their design and...

The Demise of the Moderate Republican

As the GOP presidential field shapes up, it's become clear that any moderate restraints on the party are now gone.

Though commentators often portray the Democrats and Republicans as mirror images of each other, American politics is not symmetrical. We do not have one party that represents the left in just the way that the other party represents the right. Among congressional Democrats, moderates and conservatives sharply circumscribed what Barack Obama could do on the economy, health care, climate, and other issues even when his party had majorities in both the House and Senate. The Republicans, in contrast, have virtually cleansed themselves of moderates and are poised to move the country sharply to the right if they win the 2012 election. The source of the party's shift is a mysterious death that may be the single most important contemporary political development -- the demise of the moderate Republican in national politics. Growing up in New York at a time when Dwight Eisenhower was president and Nelson Rockefeller was governor, I would never have guessed that moderate Republicans stood in...