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, which will be out next year.

Recent Articles

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 heart of Schumpeter’s vision, and no one today objects to...

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
T he 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 muddled middle,...

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)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves at the crowd at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. S hortly before the Democratic National Convention opens in Charlotte, North Carolina, next September 3, Barack Obama should announce that he has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join him on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate, and Vice President Joe Biden to become secretary of state in his second term—and that both of them have agreed. 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...

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)
M edicare 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...

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.

W ill 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 right while demoralizing the Democratic base—...