Review of The Welfare Trait. Part 1
The Welfare Trait is an extremely impressive and intelligent book based heavily on the science of psychometrics and the science of personality. In some ways, it is very surprising that this book has not been done before. That is not to minimize or lessen the praise this author and thesis rightly deserves but merely to state that the argument contained within the book is, in actuality, a corollary of the latest research in psychometrics, personality and intelligence. In this sense, then, to anyone with a passing knowledge of this field, it is not a remotely controversial thesis (the reaction has been quite literally hysterical to something quite blasé in terms of the convention of the science behind it) and the conclusions drawn from the book are very consistent with replicated findings found in the science of personality and behavioural genetics. To a large degree, then, the thesis of this book is actually quite axiomatic and self-explanatory (maybe even perhaps a little anodyne?) and it is surprising that someone hasn’t applied the latest scientific findings to the welfare system before: as mentioned, it is a natural corollary of the research and apposite to the welfare state. Adam Perkins to his credit has done this in a nuanced, sensitive, rigorous and clever manner.
A key strength of The Welfare Trait is that it is extremely data driven and extremely evidenced based: the thesis is presented in a very logically precise and systemic manner, propelling itself incrementally as a result of the data, making The Welfare Trait a very tight, rigorous and well-argued thesis. It can rightly be considered a milestone book as it initiates the important discussion between personality and chronic welfare claiming. The centrepiece of The Welfare Trait is the theory that welfare-induced personality ‘’mis-development,’’ a result of exposure to childhood disadvantage (namely, a result of parental neglect), leads to a personality development coined by the author as an Employment Resistant Personality profile (hereafter to be referred to as ERP), characterised by low conscientiousness and low agreeableness. ERP, mild form of anti-social personality disorder, is a personality mis-development typified by aggressive, anti-social and rule-breaking tendencies which harm life chances in adulthood. ERP is genetically and environmentally transmitted, as will be discussed, as a result of parental inheritance and parental neglect, condemning those born into childhood disadvantage to likely acquire ERP. Perkins also very reasonably proposes that because welfare reproduction is influenced by the generosity of welfare payments (the data for this will be shown in Part 2) and this in turn increases the number of those born into childhood disadvantage, which increases the number of children acquiring ERP, welfare payments should be scaled back to the extent that the level of welfare reproduction achieves parity with the breeding rates of non-welfare recipients. This is a very astute and reasonable social policy recommendation, but perhaps it should go further, and I will discuss this at the conclusion of the article (Part 2).
Ultimately the hysterical reaction towards The Welfare Trait says more about our current ‘’politically correct’’ culture than it does the nature of the thesis or the extremely moderate conclusions and societal proposals Perkins has drawn from the data. I would suggest that it also says something about the author’s moral courage in publishing a book likely to be ridiculed, attacked, misunderstood and subject to a variety of pejorative -isms and slurs, subject to baseless ad hominem by those ideologically opposed to any modification or reform towards the present day operating policies of the welfare state. In applying personality variables to life outcomes and societal problems, Perkins is following in the footsteps of Hans Eysenck by liberating a subject area of discourse by applying the latest scientific findings to that area. While Eysenck liberated psychology from the therapeutically useless methods of talk-therapy and the unscientific psychological model of Freudian psychoanalysis; Perkins by introducing personality as a variable in the welfare discussion is trying to similarly reform welfare by introducing the science of personality into the discussion and keeping the welfare debate in step with the latest scientific and economic findings.
A societal policy that is not modified by the latest scientific or economic findings is by definition and nature regressive, unscientific and ideological. Like Eysenck, Perkins has received the same blowback and hostile reaction from vested-interests that desire truth and scientific data fall in line with their utopian and ideological fantasies. To give a historical parallel, Eysenck was physically accosted and attacked during a talk at LSE for believing in the science of personality – the belief that personality is measurable, consistent and not situational - and the genetic basis of group average racial IQ differences (both conclusions are now fully accepted by the mainstream psychological establishment), a fate similar to the reaction Adam Perkins received. His scheduled talk, rather then being punched, was cancelled after staged protests and the accompanying social media outrage by Social Justice Warriors forced LSE to cancel the venue – SJW’s are the modern incarnation of the Left (the latest incarnation of the regressive, moralistic Victorian church ladies). Fortunately, the talk was re-scheduled by LSE in the knowledge that free speech and free academic debate had ultimately been curtailed and squashed by the authoritative (pathetic) behaviour of a minority. This hasn’t stopped the Lefts’ media and academic acolytes, though, from whitewashing the findings of The Welfare Trait with a shrug of the shoulders and a desultory flick of the wrist. For instance, in a Times Higher Education review of the talk at LSE, despite speaking for an hour and being the main attraction and focal point of the talk, Perkins’ lecture was completely airbrushed in favour of a one-sided review of Kitty Stewart’s twenty minute factually flawed diatribe. While a dismissive interview can be found in The Guardian, The Welfare Trait has otherwise been off-limits for the media and academic establishment. Better to ignore than confront The Welfare Trait lest it brings additional attention and popular regard for the findings.
To date, despite some elite ad hominem by people so ideological that they haven’t even read the book, no coherent or reasonable counter-arguments have come forth. This was best typified by Ben Goldacre (author of Bad Science) criticizing a book he hasn’t (admittedly) even read (Goldacre wins an award for most flagrant hypocrisy and manifest irony). Equally, Kitty Stewart’s ‘’cherry-picking’’ assertion (commonly mentioned in Amazon reviews and publication print reviews) is not an argument or a counter-argument marshalled by data. That Kitty Stewart had to resort to name calling and slander is a testament to the rigorousness and tightly-argued nature of the thesis. Kitty Stewart had twenty minutes to make a case and could not. Analogously, one star Amazon reviews and ad hominem attacks are similar to those who label IQ tests as ‘’racist’’ or ‘’culturally biased’’ despite being the most tested and most-replicated finding in the entire field of science itself. Slander and pejorative labels are not an evidence based argument or evidence of an argument – it signifies nothing, not even if you scream or tweet it. The Welfare Trait is about facts and science, not liberal ideology or one worded SJW placards.
The Welfare Trait hasn’t been completely ignored or thrown into the righteous contemporary Victorian dustbin of taboo-thoughts-we-cannot-possibly-entertain-without-fainting-and-moral-outrage, thanks only to the internet (I’ve seen Charles C. Johnson from Got News endorse it on Reddit) and radical webzine publications like Apotheosis Magazine. Without the internet, ignored by the media and academic establishment, such works fall down the memory hole. But as the data pours in, previous ideas about the welfare state will become irrelevant and consigned to the dustbin of pseudoscience and ideological moralism, especially when molecular human genetics and its subsidiaries locate the small effects of a large variation of genes on genetic and personality differences – while genetic and heritable differences have already been found and can be inferred accurately from the findings of behavioural genetics, some people refuse to assert the causal role of genes if we cannot specify which genes influence behaviour. When that day comes and the location and specificity of the genes are located, contemporary welfare discourse will be swept away like the doctrines of Environmentalism, the Blank Slate, The Ghost in the Machine, Boasian Anthropology, Freudianism and Lysenkoism (or anything sociological) before it; books like The Welfare Trait, inauspicious and morally reprehensible to the mainstream academic and media establishment at present, will in time be seen as anodyne and completely acceptable by the public at large. When this happens, a large portion of praise and congratulations will have to be credited to Adam Perkin’s The Welfare trait as initiating the seminal discussion between welfare and personality and for toppling the taboos that have kept this important variable from the discussion – (that’s if the damage wrought by the expanding welfare system is not irreversible by then). It only serves to prove that, despite apparent acceptance of evolution and natural selection, individual and group variation in genetics and personality is still considered a morally dangerous and taboo topic (except, of course, when it comes to dog breeds) by a large section of the morally cowardice, ideologically aligned academic and media establishment.
At the heart of the mainstream establishment’s calumny and misrepresentation of Adam Perkins’ work is a fundamental misunderstanding of the argument of The Welfare Trait. The Welfare Trait is not demonising a group of people for certain genetic predispositions inherited genetically or environmentally (we are not ultimately morally responsible for our genetics and personality profile: it is something that happens to us, not something we choose), it is rather attacking the perverse economic incentives of a social policy which encourages and gives rise to an influx of children being born into childhood disadvantage (statistics of the correlation between fertility and welfare payments taken from The Welfare Trait provided in Part two). Considering that The Welfare Trait is trying to minimise childhood disadvantage by the modification of social policy, it seems bizarre that it has attracted so much spleen by the establishment when the eradication of childhood disadvantage is one of the primary goals sought by the Left-wing establishment. It is manifestly illogical, then, to deny the partial eradication of childhood disadvantage on the basis of denying that individuals are genetically orientated – whether through genetic or environmental transmission – to behave and act in certain ways; it is especially irrational to deny this considering all the scientifically replicated findings in behavioural genetics point to this conclusion. There is no reason or data to believe otherwise, no data to believe in the magic fix of additional government spending and wall-to wall-equality (despite the unbelievable blessings of Capitalism, it is always blamed). To believe only in increased government welfare spending, then, as the way to eradicate inequality and childhood disadvantage, despite being proven as erroneous and contributing to it, is an example of the extremely irrational status quo bias (See Nick Bostrom: Anthropic Reasoning). It is a significant cognitive error because there are no rational reasons to suppose that increased government and welfare spending will eradicate childhood and social disadvantage, especially when there are viable alternatives such as genetic selection, intensive pre-school socialization or even sterilization (sometimes the Gordian knot has to be cut) (See genetic selection article in Apotheosis Magazine).
This bizarre cognitive error in welfare discourse is best explained by emphasising that the debate over the welfare state is so entrenched and monopolised by sociologists and other ‘’so-called’’ social policy ‘’experts’’, that is to say, so ideological and unscientific by those with a certain agenda towards maintaining the welfare state, that the welfare state will expand by nature of its ideological advocates. The primary ideological nature of this advocacy denies individual variation in intelligence and personality profiles as a causal mechanism of social and childhood disadvantage and instead alternatively sees the environment and social conditions as the main causal mechanism entrenching social and childhood disadvantage and inequality. This cognitive error is more than strange because to accept the massive distribution of psychological and cognitive differences as a result of inherited and heritable characteristics in a society does not lead to a repudiation of the welfare system or an acceptance of social inequality of opportunity. Egalitarianism and welfare advocacy does not rest on individuals being equal in ability or equal in psychological temperament, it rests only on the equality of opportunity. It is a common Egalitarian mistake to confuse equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. It is a seemingly bizarre and significant cognitive error that Egalitarians and anti-reform advocates cannot seem to get over or grasp. If we accept that the foundation of ideological interpretation is biologically hardwired (neuroscience strongly suggests this), it seems to suggest that anti-reform advocates are biologically hardwired not to recognise this fact. I have posited this startling conclusion because this bizarre cognitive error does not significantly undermine their advocacy of the welfare state, it only exposes the limitation of the welfare state.
The argument presented in The Welfare Trait is actually very simple, logically consistent and – (dare I say it) - axiomatic, and it is in this very simplicity confirms the validity of the thesis. The thesis in a nutshell: those habitually unemployed are habitually unemployed because of their dysfunctional personality, namely their low conscientiousness (hereafter to be referred as C -) and low agreeableness (hereafter to be referred as A -). In regards to the distribution of personality profiles in a society, a personality profile of A - and C – would be situated in the left tail of a distributed bell curve, left of the mean in the distribution of personality traits. Considering personality is a stable trait, habitually chronic welfare claiming is not a result of situational circumstance but a reflection of our personality and genetic predisposition. Claimants are not A - and C- because they are on welfare, they are on welfare because they are A – and C -. As we would expect if we plotted the distribution of personalities on a bell curve, those with A – and C – personality profiles are consequently overrepresented as welfare claimants. This is pretty axiomatic and self-evident, but some sociologists disagree with this particular point and blame social forces or instead argue that welfare claimants are a bastion of good personalities, driven to welfare by debilitating and unfortunate circumstances, and only testing A – C – because the very welfare that sustains them also induced these negative personality traits (how illogical is that!?) Thus they argue that personality is related to specificity (despite there being no evidence for this position). This is putting the cart before the horse.
Perkins’ position in regards to the relation between welfare and personality is far more logical and reasonable, and thus should be accepted on Ockham’s razor alone. Thankfully there’s no need for Ockham’s razor because the evidence drawn in the book is so overwhelming. Analogously, but figuratively, putting personality first is almost the same as saying that those on welfare because of physical disability are only on welfare because of their physical disability – (pretty logically consistent and self-explanatory). In cases of physical disability, then, unless you were a sadist or perverse, you would never say that welfare caused the physical disability. This is figuratively the argument of the opposing anti-reform advocates who deny personality as the causal mechanism of being a welfare recipient. Based on that figurative logic, it is pretty illogical to state that welfare itself causes the mental and personality dysfunction of its claimants. As such, The Welfare Trait is arguing that chronic welfare claimants are chronic welfare claimants because of mental diminishment and psychological and personality dysfunction, not because they’re the shining lights of humanity. As demonstrated by The Bell Curve, statistically, on average, those with lower g or dysfunctional personality traits achieve poorer life outcomes.
It is by nature almost axiomatic that chronic welfare claimants are those typically with lower g (my addition, Perkins would not agree as his book focuses primarily on personality, not intelligence) and characterised by a personality profile of A – and C –. It is not a surprise that this personality profile is overrepresented as a habitual welfare claimant, a remarkably low life outcome. Longitudinal studies such as the Dunedin study, for instance, tracking participants born in 1972/73 show that personality measured predicts occupational outcomes in adulthood. The lower the ability of self-control (C-) the more likely the child as an adult would experience adverse life outcomes: criminality, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, drug addiction and habitual welfare claiming. It may seem odd how a personality questionnaire administered in youth can predict life outcomes, until we factor in the stability of personality as a reflection of neural and chemical wiring for which genes have coded for. Those with A - and C – are frequently in trouble with the law, experience frequent decreased marital stability, procreate more children compared to A+ C+ and were overrepresented in crime. Inability to achieve self-control and the inability to delay gratification has long been linked with adverse life outcomes. Perhaps the most famous experiment measuring self-control is the Stanford Marshmallow experiment led by Walter Mischel, in which a child between the ages of 7 - 9 is offered a small reward immediately or a larger reward if they could delay gratification for 15 minutes. Those who could delay gratification achieved better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, BMI and other statistical and correlated measures. This study has been replicated many times.
Conscientiousness, then, is the most important personality variable and, in regards to our personality structure, the main determinant influencing whether we attain success in our individual endeavours or not: that is, those with C – are characterised by anti-social traits, impulsivity, criminality, disorganisation, irresponsibility and lack of care and a poor work ethic. It makes sense, then, why those characterised by C – would be unemployed, because what employer would want to hire an individual characterised by a poor work-ethic and an inability to attend to work.? Moreover, why would an individual characterised by C – want to attend work when he could receive benefits and gratify his needs for free? These are the least of the problems of those with C – as personality traits affect the functioning and operating of a whole life, not just in regards to work and employability. Agreeableness is likewise an important personality variable and is integral to the smooth running of a workplace; the social aspects of work and individual functioning. Those A – are more disagreeable, less cooperative, less happy, less healthy, hostile and more prone to conflict. They have difficult rather than good personalities. They would not go out there way to help another person unless explicitly in their self-interest. Low level of agreeableness is a personality trait directional selection deselects on the basis that it makes cooperation and civic life harder. Agreeableness is a purely social trait and its natural selection suggests that it perhaps could be the trait that most of all makes civilization and social functioning possible (though it is not the only one).
By proxy we can distinguish, on average, those with low C – to be: engaging in less health promoting behaviours and engaging in more death promoting behaviours: not wearing seat-belts, smoking and/or abusing drugs – and as such are more at risk of affective disorders, diabetes and strokes. Economists, such as Friedman, have suggested that the correlation between C+ and greater health is that C+ reflects the proxy health of the neurotransmitters. Those with C – overburden the health care system, have less rewarding marriages (likely to result quickly in divorce) and less rewarding friendships. They are also likely to be single mums or typical cads. Extrapolating this further, then, those C – overburden the criminal justice system, proliferate insurance scams and disproportionally require healthcare. Demonstrably, the welfare system increases the tax burden with creating and economically incentivizing the creation of personality dysfunctional C – personalities.
Those with C- and A- have been termed by the author as ‘’Employment Resistant Personality (ERP),’’ a mild, moderate form of the anti-social personality (anti-social personality accounts for 1% of population). While not mentioned in The Welfare Trait other than a brief mention of the consequences of prefrontal damage to individuals who were extremely conscientious (Phineas Gage, for instance) but suffered severe diminished life outcomes as a result of brain trauma affecting their level of conscientiousness, it doesn’t take much, then, to argue that biological underpinning of social deviancy and social antagonism – correlated with low conscientiousness and low agreeableness - is a result of a genetically or environmentally determined underdeveloped or mis-developed frontal and executive functions. We know, for instance, that the proportionally high rate of criminality in teenagers is a combination of neuro-hormonal factors and the underdevelopment of the frontal cortex which also significantly affects the functioning of the executive function. The proportionality of crime decreases in conjunction with the maturation of the frontal cortex and the strengthening of the executive cortex. It is not a logical stretch, then, to suggest that those with A – and C – personality profiles suffer from a weak executive function, that function responsible for regulating self-control, impulsivity, inhibiting, planning and attending. Furthermore, those with ability to defer gratification have a more active pre-frontal cortex. They are more neurologically wired to have greater self-control. Those with lower self-control had more activity in the ventrial seratum, that part of the brain that processes rewards and desires. Those with low conscientiousness are characterised by their inability to be punctual, lack of self-control andhave a marked inability to see further than a few hours in the future – they have a short time horizon, so it also likely that they have a weakly-formed frontal cortex as well as a weakly-formed executive function.
While The Welfare Trait labels such personality profiles as ERP, it would perhaps be more useful as seeing those below the poverty line as genetically and neurologically different. The means are different the ends the same: ERP or genetically dissimilar to the average distribution of the population, it suggests, as The Welfare Trait does, that giving generous payments to those ERP only results in a frivolous squandering of resources spent on luxury goods and not maximising the welfare of children. Welfare parents, for instance, despite having many, many more available hours in the day and substantially more hours to invest in their children over the course of the week invest substantially less time in their children than non-welfare claimants, despite non-welfare claimants working on average eight hours daily and forty hours weekly. The only argument for this, then, is that this is a result of their personality profile. More than that, they are physically unable to invest adequate time with their children because of their genes, their chemical and neural networks are not hardwired - as per r-selection - to resort to parental attention. They are not genetically disposed to invest in parental care, only geared neurologically towards mating. They do not have the brain tracts or signalling for it. Extrapolating this to the idea of supplying welfare claimants with additional money, then, falls into exactly the same trap. Additional money invested in welfare claimants is spent frivolously and wastefully. They can’t be held morally responsible for who they are, but it has to be accepted and not indulged. Likewise, habitual welfare claimants are unable (and unwilling) to get out of the welfare trap because they are genetically unable to – not because of predatory capitalist social forces (which pays them generously to win the Darwinian contest of procreating offspring) or a combination of unfortunate circumstances. Because the welfare state encourages r-selection, it also enables the reproductive strategy of those genetically predisposed to be r-selected.
Part 2 to follow shortly.
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