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

Three Roads from the Supreme Court

None of the options for health-care reform is ideal, but the most likely path forward would be through action in the states.

(AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Sitting in the Supreme Court on March 27, I was stunned by the oral argument on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). From their first questions to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the conservative justices seemed to echo the arguments against the individual mandate that the opposing lawyers had set out in their briefs. When it was over, I was not 100 percent sure that Justice Anthony Kennedy would vote to overturn the mandate and related penalties. But if he does, the Court may well strike down the law’s other critical provisions, staging what amounts to a conservative judicial coup. What then? Three general alternatives stand out for health-care reform. Let’s call them the minimalist bypass, the great mountain highway, and the road through the states. The minimalist bypass would be a means of getting around the Court’s constitutional objections by revising or replacing the mandate. Even the attorneys opposing the law acknowledged that Congress could impose an insurance...

Mitt Romney, Hero of Finance

Romney’s backers say he did the tough work needed to restructure the economy. Actually, he seized opportunities that the tax, securities, and bankruptcy laws should never have given him.

“Creative destruction” is Mitt Romney’s best defense for his career in private equity and the trail of displaced workers some of his ventures left behind. The idea comes from the economist Joseph Schumpeter, who argued that capitalism generates economic growth through “gales of creative destruction” that sweep away obsolete technologies and products. As Romney’s advocates have it, that’s what his firm, Bain Capital, has advanced—painful economic changes that are essential to a rising standard of living. If Romney made his fortune that way, he deserves the praise that some conservatives have lavished on him for contributing to American competitiveness. But that isn’t the whole story. Much of the work of Bain and other private—equity firms has little to do with the kind of wrenching Schumpeterian change that contributes to growth, still less to the job creation for which Romney claims credit. Technological innovation was at the...

The Fanatics of the Center

Moderation has its zealots, so convinced of their righteousness that they ignore the likely impact of their actions.

Thomas Friedman via Center for American Progress
The political center has an undeserved reputation as the home of the most dispassionate and reasonable people. According to a strain of thought that stretches back to the 18th century, parties endanger democracy; partisans see only their side of the truth, pursue their own narrow interests, and aggravate tensions and conflict. The rational course supposedly lies in the middle, where champions of civic virtue counsel compromise and invite us to put the public good first. The anti-partisan story is a seductive myth, and a dangerous one. Those who represent themselves as standing in the center have their own partialities. Many people who call themselves nonpartisan or independent actually lean left or right but for one reason or another resist coming out of the closet as Democrats or Republicans. Some people who tell pollsters that they’re independents don’t follow politics closely or care about it enough to risk taking sides. They’re hardly model citizens. Besides this...

The Case for a Clinton-Biden Switch

Putting the current secretary of state on the presidential ticket could be Obama's best shot at re-election.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waves at the crowd at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
A Clinton-Biden switch can improve the odds of a Democratic victory at a time when economic conditions would make re-election difficult for any president. As secretary of state, Clinton has been associated with the part of the Obama administration that enjoys the highest approval. Just as important, she has not been associated with economic policy and could now provide the ticket with a fresh voice and sense of renewal on economic issues. According to polls, Clinton has been the most admired woman in America for the past seven years. Much of the old hostility toward her has faded away, and what remains is a wide respect for her steadiness, perseverance, and intelligence. Recent surveys put her approval ratings in the high 60s, considerably higher than Biden or Obama himself. In fact, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 45 percent of those who disapprove of Obama’s performance viewed Clinton favorably. As was true in 2008, she continues to have more appeal than Obama among...

The Medicare Bind

Democrats should defend Medicare. But if they want to accomplish much else, they will have to change it.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare into law, July 30, 1965. (AP)
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 more...