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AE: Social Problem
1. Social Problems: Definitions, Theories, and Analysis, Harold A. Widdison and H. Richard Delaney, Social Problems: Definitions, Theories, and Analysis, 1995
This essay, written specifically for this volume, explores the complexities associated with defining, studying, and attempting to resolve “social” problems. The three major theoretical approaches—symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict—are summarized.
2. The Fragmentation of Social Life, D. Stanley Eitzen, Vital Speeches of the Day, July 1, 2000
In this essay about America, Stanley Eitzen addresses a crucial problem: the fragmentation of social life. He suggests that America could come apart in the future. Eitzen discusses excessive individualism, heightened personal isolation, increasing inequality, and the deepening racial/ethnic/religious/sexuality divide.
3. How to Re-Moralize America, Francis Fukuyama, The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 1999
Recently many of the indicators of moral decline have started to show improvement. Francis Fukuyama reports the changes and accepts the challenge of explaining how moral regeneration occurs generally and what caused a potential moral regeneration in the 1990s. In the process he is forced to explore the basic sociological question: What are the sources of value systems? How do they arise and change? In his search for an answer he leads the reader through a sociological detective story.
Part A. The Polity
4. Who Rules America?, G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America?, 2006
G. William Domhoff is the leading proponent of the power elite view of American politics, which is explained in this article as it applies to political influence in America today.
5. Inside the Hidden World of Earmarks, Eamon Javers, BusinessWeek, September 17, 2007
The main criticism of the American government is that it is not fair. The rich and large corporations get much of what they want and the general public gets little of what it wants. One of the processes that achieve these results is earmarks. Eamon Javers explains this process and its impacts, and calls for its reform.
6. Our Incompetent Government, Richard A. Posner, The New Republic, November 14, 2005
Richard A. Posner makes a serious charge against the U.S. government, which has been repeatedly proven incompetent in anticipating disasters and dealing with them. The government performance is so bad as to require extensive explanation.
7. Rights, Liberties, and Security, Stuart Taylor, Jr., Brookings Review, Winter 2003
A rule of government is that when dangers increase liberties shrink. Yes, but how much? Where should the balance be? Stuart Taylor, Jr. analyzes the problem. Starting with the premise “today we face dangers without a precedent: a mass movement of militant Islamic terrorists who crave martyrdom, hide in shadows, are fanatically bent on slaughtering as many of us as possible and—if they can—use nuclear truck bombs to obliterate New York or Washington or both.” Taylor calls for a reassessment of the civil liberties rules that restrict the government’s investigative powers.
Part B. The Economy
8. Evaluating Economic Change, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Daedalus, Summer 2004
Stiglitz evaluates the costs and benefits of the momentous changes involved in the processes of globalization. These processes have greatly benefited some countries and hurt other countries. Surprisingly, his economic analysis leads him into an extended discussion of morals.
9. The New Rules, Betsy Morris and Patricia Neering, Fortune, July 24, 2006
This article states that the principles that make for effective large corporations are changing because the corporate environment is changing. The old rules of being the big dog, cutting out the weak, and doing all for shareholder value undercut the long term. The new rules are being agile and innovative, networked, and to enthrone the customer.
10. Debtor Nation, Jonathan Shaw, Harvard Magazine, July/August 2007
Sometimes bad economic practices produce some positive effects in the short run but create serious problems in the long run. The immense American debt is such a practice. It has allowed higher consumption and investment but could cause an economic and/or political crisis when our creditors want to be paid back. America is at risk!
11. Born to Buy, James Woolman, Dollars & Sense, September/October 2004
The consumption side of the economy is quite dynamic today and Juliet Schor discusses some of its major findings in this article, including the fact that the materialism that undergirds the consumer society “undermines well-being in lots of different ways. . . . People who are more materialistic are more depressed, they’re more anxious, they have less vitality, they connect less-well with people, they have more stomach aches and headaches.”
Part C. Problems of Place
12. Why Aren’t U.S. Cities Burning?, Michael B. Katz, Dissent Magazine, Summer 2007
Sociologists should be surprised that American cities are peaceful. Most of the conditions that produced nearly 150 riots in 1967 have continued and some like racial segregation have worsened. Michael B. Katz tries to solve this paradox.
13. Phantom Menace, John B. Judis, The New Republic, February 13, 2008
John B. Judis points out that the current anti-immigration furor is based on what is for most people a phantom menace. To explain this paradox, Judis reviews the history of immigration to America and explores psychological explanations.
14. The Invisible Ones, Rebecca Clarren, Ms., Summer 2007
Rebecca Clarren reports on the slavery that currently exists in America. Many people, usually foreigners, are held against their will and forced to work in factories under terrible conditions. Many others are forced into sex slavery. The public does not know about these slavery operations. Hopefully this will change and the evil will be stopped.
Part A. Inequality and the Poor
15. How Stratification Works, Douglas S. Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, 2007
In this article Douglas S. Massey explains how stratification works and reviews its history. The two basic mechanisms that stratify societies are exploitation and opportunity hoarding. The latter involves a socially defined process of exclusion. All stratification systems are unfair but some are much worse than others.
16. Goodbye, Horatio Alger, Jeff Madrick, The Nation, February 5, 2007
One of the prized characteristics of America has been the opportunity to go from rags to riches. Unfortunately, moving up economically is now impossible for most Americans. Income mobility has declined dramatically in the last three decades in America and now several European countries have more income mobility than the United States.
17. Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated?, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Scientific American, September 2005
Jeffrey D. Sachs argues that world poverty can be eliminated. The market and globalization has and will lift most people out of extreme poverty, but the elimination of extreme poverty would require the proper use of a $160 billion-a-year donation by the rich nations (0.5% of their GNP).
Part B. Welfare
18. Welfare Redux, Christopher Jencks, Joe Swingle, and Scott Winship, The American Prospect, March 2006
The authors argue that the 1996 welfare reform has been a huge success, but tougher requirements in the 2002 revision will create new hardships for many disadvantaged persons.
Part C. Racial and Ethnic Inequality and Issues
19. Virtual Equality, Virtual Segregation, Norman Kelley, Society, July/August 2006
Norman Kelley presents a negative picture of the situation of blacks in America today. Schools are as segregated now as they were before the Supreme Court’s desegregation decision. The Civil Rights Act has allowed significant progress for the black middle and upper classes, but the black lower class is locked in Third World-like poverty and divorced from the black middle class. Black leadership and black politics are failing them.
20. Why We Hate, Margo Monteith and Jeffrey Winters, Psychology Today, May/June 2002
The authors demonstrate the prevalence of prejudice and hatred in America and explain this in terms of social identity theory. Whenever people are divided into groups, negative attitudes develop toward the out-group.
21. American Dreamers, Lisa Miller, Newsweek, July 30, 2007
A major cultural issue today is the place of Muslim Americans in America. They have been good citizens relative to other groups and think strongly of themselves as Americans. Now their situation is changing. Other Americans are becoming more suspicious of them and, according to a government study, radicalism is growing among Muslims in the West.
Part D. Gender Inequalities and Issues
22. Great Expectations, Judith M. Havemann, The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2007
Women have taken tremendous strides toward equality in the corporate world and now hold half of all management and professional jobs. Their leadership style is superior to that of men. They rarely, however, hold top management positions. Why? Several explanations are discussed.
23. Human Rights, Sex Trafficking, and Prostitution, Alice Leuchtag, The Humanist, January/February 2003
One of the evil plagues haunting the world today is sex slavery and it is getting worse. It is the product of extreme poverty and the considerable profits it generates. The exploitation involved is horrendous. Human rights groups are trying to stop the practice. Alice Leuchtag covers many aspects of this issue.
24. All Happy Families, Julian Sanchez, Reason Magazine, August 2005
Julian Sanchez advocates adoption by gay couples of children in the foster care system. Regardless of public attitudes toward gay families Sanchez shows that the children will be better off in gay families than in foster care.
Part A. The Family
25. The Frayed Knot, The Economist, May 26, 2007
The thesis that marriage is in trouble is a half truth. It is true for the lower class and not for college educated class. Thus there is a marriage gap and it contributes to the income gap.
26. The Opt-Out Myth, E. J. Graff, Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 2007
E.J. Graff explains why media reports of upper class women opting out of the labor market to raise children in substantial numbers is a myth. The proportion of women, even mothers, in the labor force is increasing, not decreasing. The consequences and policy implications of the truth are immense.
27. (Rethinking) Gender, Debra Rosenberg, Newsweek, May 21, 2007
Debra Rosenberg opens the window on people who are born one gender but feel that they are the other gender. Some use surgery and/or hormones to bring their bodies into compliance with their identity. Their stories are riveting, and their lives raise questions about what gender really is.
28. Overworked, Time Poor, and Abandoned by Uncle Sam, Janet C. Gornick, Dissent Magazine, Summer 2005
According to Janet C. Gornick the above title describes the American parent, especially the mother. Yes, parents are under considerable stress, but appropriate public policies would greatly help them.
29. Peer Marriage, Pepper Schwartz, The Communitarian Reader: Beyond the Essentials, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004
Pepper Schwartz celebrates the widespread diffusion of peer marriages in which spouses regard each other as full social equals, both have careers, share family decision making, and more equally share child-rearing responsibilities. She argues that peer marriages generally result in stronger families and greater satisfaction.
Part B. Education
30. Against School, John Taylor Gatto, Harper’s Magazine, September 2003
John Taylor Gatto attacks the American school system for being boring and preventing children from growing up. He suspects that this result is exactly what those who control the school system want schools to be. In arguing his radical thesis he presents a very provocative history of the evolution of the American school system.
31. Can the Center Find a Solution That Will Hold?, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Education Next, Winter 2006
American high schools are failing and Washington is not going to fix them. Chester E. Finn, Jr. describes six major problems and proposes six solutions.
Part C. Health
32. Fixing Hospitals, Robert Langreth, Forbes Magazine, June 20, 2005
Robert Langreth accepts the report that medical errors kill 100,000 Americans every year and then proposes reforms that will dramatically reduce this number.
33. Medical Guesswork, John Carey, BusinessWeek, May 29, 2006
John Cary reports that most doctors’ medical decisions are based on very little empirical evidence. His report features medical crusader Dr. David Eddy, who is championing evidence-based medicine.
Part A. Crime
34. Fighting Crime, John J. Donohue, Current, June 2005
It is amazing what conclusions we would come to about crime and punishment if we used economic logic as John J. Donohue shows in this article. We would stop building prisons, abolish the death penalty, expand the police force, adopt sensible gun controls, and legalize drugs among other things.
35. The Aggregate Burden of Crime, David A. Anderson, Journal of Law and Economics, October 1999
David A. Anderson makes a valiant effort to compute the annual costs of major types of crime and the net annual total costs of all crime, which he claims annually exceeds $1 trillion or over $4000 per capita. Fraud and cheating on taxes costs Americans over 20 times the costs of theft, burglary, and robbery.
36. Drugs, Ethan Nadelmann, Foreign Policy, September/October 2007
Ethan Nadelmann argues that the war on drugs cannot be won. Prohibition has failed again and again and current drug policies are creating illegal businesses and high crime rates. Less punitive policies as in Europe do not increase drug use and produce much better results.
Part B. Law Enforcement
37. Causes and Consequences of Wrongful Convictions, Hugo Adam Bedau, Current, March/April 2003
Recently much light has been shed on the injustices of the criminal justice system. Hugo Adam Bedau has spent several decades researching wrongful convictions and lays out the evidence for its prevalence and suggests reforms that should greatly reduce them.
38. Reforming Juvenile Justice, Barry Krisberg, The American Prospect, September 2005
Juvenile justice needs to be reformed. Barry Krisberg reviews the history of the oscillation between punitive and rehabilitation phases in juvenile justice. Science supports the rehabilitation model and public fears support the punitive model, which is in force today. But rehabilitation of children often occurs and society gains from it.
39. America Incarcerated, Glenn C. Loury, Utne Reader, November/December 2007
Glenn C. Loury reports that America houses 25% of the world’s inmates while having only 5% of the world’s population. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. This is related to a widespread public attitude of punitiveness and underlying racial attitudes. Other countries have much better records of rehabilitation.
Part C. Terrorism
40. Defeating Terrorism, Marvin J. Cetron, The Futurist, May/June 2007
One of the leading futurists, Marvin Cetron, directed the most extensive projects forecasting the future of terrorism and reports its findings here.
41. Nightmare in Manhattan, Bruce Goldman, New Scientist Magazine, March 2006
America’s biggest fear is nuclear terrorism. Bruce Goldman describes the impact on Manhattan of a terrorist nuclear bomb.
Part A. Population and Environment Issues
42. Enough Already, Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, New Scientist Magazine, September 30, 2006
Paul and Anne Ehrlich counter those who fear negative consequences of stable or declining population. The worriers fail to notice the benefits of stable population and the population decline thesis is overblown. The population of developed countries with healthy economies is likely to grow through immigration. Stable or declining population countries will have to change some of their retirement policies and make other adaptations, but adjustments need not be very severe.
43. SOS: We Need a Plan B, Lester R. Brown, Population Press, Winter 2006
Lester Brown describes many of the ways in which the ecology of the planet has seriously declined over the past half century and identifies trends that provide grim prospects for the future. He also provides a rescue plan.
44. The Science of Climate Change, Anna da Costa, The Ecologist, January 2007
Climate change may be the major long term trend affecting humanity. Anna da Costa explains what generates our climate, what is causing climate change, what are the expected impacts, and what can be done to prevent much of the predicted climate change and negative impacts.
Part B. Technological Issues
45. Who’s Afraid of Human Enhancement?, Nick Gillespie, et al., Reason Magazine, January 2006
A major cultural debate of this century is how society will deal with biotechnology. The potential for reducing diseases, disabilities, and abnormalities, and enhancing performance is great. Eventually children can be “designed.” The ethics of human biotechnology is debated by four involved thinkers from different perspectives who ask, “What should biotechnology be allowed to do?”
46. The Secret Nuclear War, Eduardo Goncalves, The Ecologist, April 2001
An extremely consequential technology is nuclear. The energy it produces has greatly benefited mankind, but at what price? Eduardo Goncalves reports on all the nuclear accidents, testings, experiments, leaks, production, cover-ups, and storage and reuse of nuclear materials that he can find out about. The death toll could be as high as 175 million, and the shameful behavior of countless agencies that he reports on is shocking.
Part C. The Future
47. Update on the State of the Future, Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon, The Futurist, January/February 2006
In this article two leading futurists provide a wide range of trends and predictions on the future. Jerome C. Glenn’s and Theodore J. Gordon’s environmental predictions are particularly frightening but they do point to an increasing awareness of the problems and support for measures that favor sustainability.
48. How Globalization Went Bad, Steven Weber et al., Foreign Policy, January/February 2007
Globalization creates both benefits and costs. Corporations and political leaders push it for the benefits of increased production, cheaper goods, and bigger profits. The authors, however, examine the negative side of globalization including global warming, increasing international terrorism, weaker international institutions, dangers of pandemic diseases, more intense religious and ideological cleavages, and a more precarious global financial system.
49. Understanding Our Moment in History, William Van Dusen Wishard, Vital Speeches of the Day, May 1, 2005
The author is a specialist in trend analysis and his research convinces him that the world is transiting between two ages. The world, as we know it, is coming to an end because of globalization, information technologies, urbanization, the explosion of knowledge and technologies, the quickening pace of change, and a long-term spiritual and psychological reorientation.
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