Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality - Dr Adam Perkins

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Perhaps you are fortunate enough to know people who are agreeable and conscientious - the elements of the prosocial personality. Managers love such people: they do what they say they will do, and are a pleasure to deal with.

It will come as little surprise that people with the opposite traits, those who are impulsive and aggressive, are harder to employ. They disproportionately fill the ranks of those on welfare, where - as problem families - they make major contributions to violence and criminality. They also fecklessly create large numbers of offspring and then neglect them.

These stereotypical descriptions are not, of course, constructed from thin air. They summarise countless reports and the daily experiences of people unfortunate enough to have to deal with them.

Adam Perkins, in his book 'The Welfare Trait', calls these people 'employment resistant'. As personality traits are moderately heritable (he quotes 0.3-0.4, Wikipedia has 0.4 -0.6), he suggests that we're rather stupid in our welfare policies to encourage their enhanced reproduction.

How could anyone with half a brain disagree? When you're in a hole, stop digging. But the key issue is how big a problem it really is. The author has some numbers (p. 134 ff) buried in a rather lengthy and turgid discussion, but my impression is that in the great scheme of things it's not the biggest problem we face right now. In any event, his proposed solution of disincentivising reproduction by the employment-resistant would make a difference over generations only at the margins.

Dr Perkins takes 185 pages to make the points above, and his writing is pedestrian and leaden.  His heart is in the right place, and it is of course deplorable that  he has been prevented from speaking by right-on students, but I still couldn't really recommend you buy this book; way too repetitive, not enough sparkle, originality or wit.


A review from The Adam Smith Institute and one from Dr James Thompson.

And then there's Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.
"Sorry, Grand Theft Auto, Dr Perkins is off the bill

"The latest victim of politically correct censorship is Dr Adam Perkins, of King’s College London, who believes that unemployed people are unspeakably ghastly.

"This is a somewhat crude distillation of his work, The Welfare Trait, in which he suggests that a large tranche of long-term welfare claimants are employment-averse, belligerent, unconscientious and disagreeable, traits they painstakingly propagate in their awful children, who have names like 50 Cent and Grand Theft Auto.

"Perkins was “saddened” to find his lecture at the London School of Economics cancelled after adverse social media comment about his eminently sensible thesis. One hysterical campaigning organisation, Black Triangle, suggested his views would meet with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith. That’s apparently enough to get you banned from speaking."
Rod, you are so bad.


A final remark: prosociality is often assumed to be wholly positive, but there's a reason we're not all doves. The best soldiers are often the worst citizens.

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