Debating Sources of Social Security

March 17, 2009

We are taught that times of natural disaster, economic recession or depression, and war have led people in the past to pull together and help each other. Sociologists note this was often accomplished through networks maintained by social institutions such as family, church, and community. As time went by, the government seemed to step in more and more to offer social, medical, emotional, and economic support during times of crisis.

Some sociologists site changes in the social characteristics of American society that are disempowering traditional sources of security. For example, consider the growing physical geography of the United States, the expansion of America’s population, the social diversity of Americans, the growing absence of traditional family structures, the lives of a more transient people, and the weakening of religion. For these reasons and others, some sociologists argue that it is necessary for government to “step in.” Other sociologists argue traditional social networks didn’t become dysfunctional, but were forced out by government intervention. Such social scientists might site the Mormon Church’s food bank system as an example of a functioning alternative to government aid.

Matthai Kuruvila, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, explains the Mormon food bank system as a working example of private welfare. Rodney Stark, a sociologist Kuruvila interviewed, describes the food bank as a complex network of Mormons who are mostly volunteers. They operate their own farms, package their products, and distribute them to 110 storehouses they operate across America. Supplies are also delivered to wards in areas over 30 miles from the storehouse. For free. As demand has increased, the Church has increased supply. Kuruvila wrote that the Church declined to discuss the amount of food and people served by the food bank system.

What do you think? Would you like to discuss this topic? If so, start by responding to a discussion point below or to another person’s response:

1) Do you think society is too large or its members too different for non-government forms of welfare to adequately respond to the needs of people? Why?

2) How could you use your understandings of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to argue that the federal government isn’t reliable in meeting people’s needs during disasters? How could you use this information to argue that local government isn’t capable of supplying the needs of people during an emergency? What role did private charities, churches, businesses, and local citizens play in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina?

3) Based upon responses to the above two talking points, do you think the government or the private sector is best suited as the source for our economic recovery? Do you think elements of the government’s responses to natural disasters are a proper measure of its ability to deal with economic crises? Why or why not?

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  1. I saw first hand during the aftermath of Katrina that FEMA was inadequatly prepared for a natural disaster. My wife and I sat on a load of water for two weeks right after the hurricane had devastated the area. There were hundreds of truck loads of water, tarps, and ice sitting on an abandoned runway in Selma Alabama.I spoke with owner operaters of semi-trucks that were getting paid 1000.00 a day by FEMA, to set on loads of ice for a couple months only to be diverted to underground freezers up north. the real help was coming from private citizens. I also saw hundreds of new trailers that FEMA was unable to let people move into because they could not get gravel to the area. private citizens are not bound by red tape and beauracracy.

  2. Native groups early on viewed death in different ways. Before contact with other races had occured,death at an early age due to unknown natural causes was seen as caused by something like a curse placed on by someone like a Shaman or someone with a grievance against an individual. When someone lived a full life and died of old age they were said to have run out of energy or lifeforce much like the energizer bunny does. This was the natives way of dealing with death and having closure. This is very interesting to me.

    • Yes, many cultures and have their own perspectives on death. However, natural disasters are called natural disaster because its a disaster caused by natural forces and not by by human action. Although, it is actually interesting how the Natives view their death in such way.

  3. In the article,”Debating Sources of Social Security,” no matter how bad the economy is, we as a society have been helping each other throughout this downfall. However, the government noticed how currupt the economy is and finally decided to step up and help out. In addition, many people around the world has been separting from his or her activites and functions. Although, there are many other natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina; that disaster affected so many people and also the United States.

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