Many of us presented extensive and comprehensive rational criticism of Adam Perkin’s book The Welfare Trait, in which Perkins claims to present “scientific proof” that the social security system is creating a generation of work-resistant personalities; that “generous” welfare means that more children are born into disadvantaged households.
According to Perkins, the combination of these two effects means that the welfare state itself is directly increasing, in the long-run, the number of individuals whose personality is leading them to be workshy. He uses these propositions to attempt to add credibility to his lazy, New Right and untenable claim that cutting welfare even further is necessary to prevent poor people from having more children than wealthier people, who are described by Perkins as having solid citizen traits. His work contains many assumptions and prejudices, fundamental methodological flaws, basic logical and mathematical errors, the unconscientious misuse of other researcher’s work, and he dismally fails to support his dismal central proposals and dismal conclusions.
I’m still wondering how studies of mice running around on a wheel can possibly tell us anything about human behaviour, as last time I checked, mice hadn’t evolved to create a welfare state, and had no idea about the complexities concerning the division of labour in capitalist societies. Or power relationships for that matter. Still, there’s nothing like a cage to emphasise exploitative relationships, a life of performance instead of meaning, and the joys of repetitive, pointless tasks that permit only dreams of escape and freedom.
Perkins doesn’t reserve his disdain for people who need social security to mere subtext, his choice of terms and phrases throughout his discourse have an eye-wateringly crude blatancy that simply drips a superficial sense of smug superiority, whilst also inadvertently betraying his own deeper sense of inadequacy. This was also evident in some of his dialogue with critics of his work.
Some of the best criticisms I saw include those of social scientist Andy Fugard, from the University College London (UCL), Jonathan Portes from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, economist Michael O’Connor, international political economist Richard Murphy, fellow blogger and commentator Johnny Void, profilic writer on Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, The Equality Trust, Bernadette Meaden from the Ekklesia think tank, writer and Guardian journalist Dawn Foster, amongst many others.
My own critique was written after I saw the Adam Smith Institute’s original gushing endorsement of Perkins’s spectacularly misanthropic book. I had some discussion with Richard Murphy about it at the time. However, Andrew Sabisky, who wrote the glowing review of The Welfare Trait without actually reading it critically, has since added this to his article:
With many thanks to @AnitaBellows12 for spotting the addition. Sabisky’s page on the ASI has since been deleted.
The Adam Smith Institute has been the impetus behind Conservative policy agendas and was the primary intellectual drive behind the privatisation of state-owned industries during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, and alongside the Centre for Policy Studies and Institute of Economic Affairs, advanced a neoliberal approach towards public policy on privatisation, taxation, education, and healthcare, and have advocated the replacement of much of the welfare state by private insurance schemes.
That the Institute originally seized upon Perkins’s offensive, prejudiced narrative – a blunt eugenic treatise and toxic brand of psychopolitical New Right antiwelfarism and pseudoscientific neuroliberalism – doesn’t come as a surprise. However, such an embarrassing climbdown in the face of well presented and overwhelming evidence that The Welfare Trait is utter nonsense on stilts leaves us wondering just how much psychopolitical rubbish the think tank have previously got away with peddling.
As Johnny Void points out:“It would take another book to point out all the errors, bias and misuse of evidence in The Welfare Trait which reads more like a fervent conspiracy theory than a piece of academic research. It is genuinely astonishing, to the point of suspicion, that it received peer review and was published at all. What is not so surprising is the jubilant reaction of right wing pundits who declared their nasty little prejudices finally proved.”
Perkins misuses the cover and credibility of science to blame the casualities of politically designed socioeconomic systems for their own circumstances and problems and to justify an existing social power and wealth hierarchy. It’s no coincidence that eugenicists like Perkins and their wealthy supporters also share a mutual antipathy for political progressivism, trade unionism, collectivism, notions of altruism and of co-operation and class struggle. Now that is profoundly antisocial.
Perkins likes to discuss at some length other people’s alleged traits and personalities, many of which he makes up as he goes along, such as “solid citizen traits” and “employment-resistant personality”. But perhaps he should pay a little more attention to research into the established dark triad, which is a group of three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. And look a little closer to home:
- Narcissism is characterised by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a distinct lack of empathy.
- Machiavellianism is characterised by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
- Psychopathy is characterised by enduring antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.
The thing is, I’m only being a little tongue in cheek here. Perkins does not like to be challenged, that quickly became very apparent. I think Perkins’s “analysis” highlights only to well the scale of problems that researchers who lack a genuine work ethic, any degree of conscientiousness, any degree of value-neutrality, methodological credibility, philosophical integrity and academic fluency present us with.
While Perkins’s book conveniently fits with Conservative small state ideology, psychopolitical behaviourist narratives, and “culture of dependency” rhetoric, there has never been evidence to support any of the claims that the welfare state creates social problems or psychological pathologies. Historically, such claims tend to reflect partisan interests and establish dominant moral agendas aimed at culturally isolating social groups, discrediting and spoiling their identities, micromanaging dissent, and then such discourses are used in simply justifying crass inqualities and hierarchies of human worth that have been politically defined and established.
We must also challenge the rise of eugenic ideology, again.
Eugenics and its stable mate, social Darwinism, has always placed different classes and races in hierarchies and arrayed them in terms of socially constructed notions of “inferiority” and “superiority.” Charles Murray’s controversial and thoroughly debunked work The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life presents another example of a discredited right-wing ideological architect, funded by the New Right, who was then used to prop up an authoritarian Conservative antiwelfarist dogma that was also paraded as “science.”
Murray had considerable influence on the New Right Thatcher and Reagan governments. Critics were often dismissed, on the basis that they were identified with “censorious political correctness,” which of course is simply a right-wing attempt to close down genuine debate and stifle criticism. The Bell Curve was part of a wider campaign to justify inequality, racism, sexism, and provided a key theme in Conservative arguments for antiwelfarism and anti-immigration policies.
I’m experiencing a distinct sense of déjà vu.
Criticisms of Adam Perkins and ‘The Welfare Trait’ – Psychology Brief
Adam Perkins: ‘Welfare dependency can be bred out’ – Dawn Foster, The Guardian
The Welfare Trait – Bernadette Meaden
It’s absurd to tie being ‘workless’ to doing no work. Just ask a mother – Ben Chu, The Independent
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