Moral Panics, Interest Groups and Social Problems

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Moral Panics, Interest Groups and Social Problems

Sociology 254 Research Paper

As Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) suggest, moral panics often propel some issues forward as “social problems,” versus others that remain on the backburner of public opinion and of policymakers’ agendas. This can be seen in the case of healthcare in America. There are many factors that have an impact on an individual’s health besides just biological ones such as genetics. For example, socio-economic status, gender, race/ethnicity, social psychological issues, and rapid social change all affect Americans’ health. Therefore, health and healthcare is not just one’s personal problem but also an issue that affects overall society. “Compared with other developed countries, the United States has an inefficient and expensive health care system with poor outcomes and many citizens who are denied access” (Chernichovsky & Leibowitz, 2010, p. 205). This unequal access to health coverage in America combined with various moral panics, driven by the motives of interest groups to defeat healthcare reform, has propelled healthcare forward as a social problem in America.

In the article, “Moral Panics: Culture, Politics, and Social Construction”, Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) define moral panics as “…explosions of fear and concern at a particular time and place about a specific perceived threat. In each case, a specific agent was widely felt to be responsible for the threat: in each case, a sober assessment of the evidence concerning the nature of the supposed threat forces the observer to the conclusion that the fear and concern were, in all likelihood, exaggerated or misplaced.” The authors argue that “In a moral panic, the reactions of the media, law enforcement, politicians, action groups, and the general public are out of proportion to the real and present danger a given threat poses to the society“(Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p. 156).

Next Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) give the five criteria that define a moral panic which are concern, hostility, consensus, disproportionality, and volatility. They find that while there are six possible reasons for a moral panic only three seem to be legitimate with various real-world examples. The three arguments for moral panics are the grassroots model, the elite-engineered model, and the interest group model. The grassroots model maintains that panics originate with the general public. The panic is an outward manifestation of what was already present in latent form. The elite engineered model argues that “…a small and powerful group or set of groups deliberately and consciously undertakes a campaign to generate and sustain, fear, concern, and panic on the part of the public over an issue they recognize not to be terribly harmful to the society as a whole. Typically, this campaign is intended to divert attention away from the real problems in the society, whose genuine solution would threaten or undermine the interests of the elite.” Thirdly, the interest group theory argues “…professional associations, police departments, the media, religious groups, educational organizations, and so on, may have a stake in bringing to the fore an issue which is independent of the interests of the elite” (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p. 161, 164-165).

Finally, Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) address the impact of moral panics. Some “…panics result in laws and other legislation, social movement organizations, action groups, lobbies, normative and behavioral transformations, organizations, government agencies, and so on” (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994, p. 169). Now that the definition and impact of moral panics have been discussed, we have to consider how this concept applies to healthcare. We can look at moral panics surrounding healthcare historically such as with the creation of Medicare and a more recent example such as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Although the aforementioned legislations...
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