The Welfare Trait

Dr. James Thompson writes about this new book:

Adam Perkins is a Lecturer in the Neurobiology of Personality at Kings College, which probably means the old Institute of Psychiatry, world centre of psycho-research, where half an hour in the canteen with other researchers is better than most post-graduate courses.

Perkins has put together an interesting thesis: welfare states are shaping up dependency behaviours, generating an increasing number of employment-resistant persons, who contribute very little, soak up resources, and are likely to have more surving work-shy children.

My initial reaction was that although all persons respond to contingencies, I doubted that the relatively novel effects of welfarism (starting seriously in 1945, but pre-figured in 1911, and evident to some extent from 1870) was too recent to have detectable genetic impact.

I decided to take a closer look. The central thesis of the book is that the benefits of a generous welfare state erode work ethics, and that the longer people live under welfarism, the more they depend on those benefits, and the more likely they are to cheat to obtain them. Dependent households have more children: for every 3% increase in UK benefits the number of children born to claimants rises by 1%, mostly due to discontinuing contraception. Perkins lays great stock on the findings of Heckman, Pinto and Savelyev 2013 that childhood disadvantage promotes anti-social behaviour. He argues that welfare dependency increases the number of children likely to be brought up badly, eroding human capital from generation to generation.

Perkins, who spent quite a few years in humdrum jobs, including times in which he relied on welfare payments, drily observes that governing elites are spared the negative consequences of welfarism, and so are reluctant to deal with its shortcomings. He also notes that the current projected cap on benefits (recently postponed) is still at a level way above what the unskilled can earn in full time work, so it is to their credit that so many remain in the labour market, rather than taking the cash and staying at home.

Understandably, given his job title, Perkins concentrates on personality, not intelligence. This is a drawback, because both are relevant, and inclusion of both measures would test and probably strengthen his thesis. He describes intelligence as the horsepower of the engine of the car, and personality the steering system in charge of setting desired destinations. In a nutshell, he wants the welfare system to be amended to take account of personality (I would say also of intelligence, or simply behaviour generally).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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