Tag: The Bell Curve

Antisocial personality and lack of conscientiousness is correlated with bogus anti-welfare research

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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, , who wrote the glowing review of The Welfare Trait without actually reading it critically, has since added this to his article:

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With many thanks to @AnitaBellows12 for spotting the addition.

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:

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.

Whilst 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.

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.

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Related

Adam Perkins, Conservative narratives and neuroliberalism

Essentialising marginalised groups and using stigmatising personality constructs to justify dismantling social security is not “science”, it’s psychopolitics

Criticisms of Adam Perkins and ‘The Welfare Trait’ – Psychology Brief

Adam Perkins: ‘Welfare dependency can be bred out’ – Dawn Foster, The Guardian

A comment on the use of results from “Does welfare reform affect fertility? Evidence from the UK”, Journal of Population Economics, in Adam Perkins’ book, The Welfare Trait – Mike Brewer

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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The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

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Political theories of poverty vary across the political spectrum, with those on the right tending to individualise social problems more generally, and those on the left tending to socialise them. Very different policy implications stem from each perspective.

Since the Thatcher era, the New Right have developed a distinctive behaviourist approach to poverty, founded on the idea that poor people are poor because they lack certain qualities and traits.

In 2013, Iain Duncan Smith worked on developingbetter measures of child povertyto provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Conservatives, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income.

The Coalition conducted a weighted and biased consultation at the time that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework in the form of leading questions, to catch carefully calculated, led and subliminally shaped public responses.

Iain Duncan Smith has indicated he will repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act, which committed the government to a target of eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020. He has dispensed with the current relative definition of poverty (anyone in a household beneath 60% of median income), abandoned the targets and introduced a new (although rather unclear) definition: the child poverty target is to be replaced with a new duty to report levels of educational attainment, “worklessness” and addiction, rather than relative material deprivation and disadvantage.

Duncan Smith argues that the measures set originally by Tony Blair are a “poor measure of poverty”, and he claims that families can fall or go above the relative poverty line for reasons that have little to do with their material wealth.

Using the Centre for Social Justice’s 2012 report Rethinking Child Poverty, (set up by none other than Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) to support his ideological perspective, Duncan Smith’s account of UK poverty is defined by bad parenting, by alcohol dependency and drug-addiction.

There is of course very little focus on accounts of parents who are poor because they are unemployed or in low-paid work. Or because of government policies that are directed at rewarding wealthy people and punishing poor people. (See also: We are raising more money for the rich.) Duncan Smith said:

“We know in households with unstable relationships, where debt and addiction destabilise families, where parents lack employment skills, where children just aren’t ready to start school, these children don’t have the same chances in life as others. It is self evident.”

Of course it’s also “self-evident” that debt, addiction and unstable relationships happen to wealthy people as well, so as far as causal explanations of poverty go, this one certainly lacks credibility and coherence.

Furthermore, I propose that a lack of opportunities and life chances arise from the cumulative effects of discriminatory economic and social structures and policies. Iain Duncan Smith went on to say:

“They cannot break out of that cycle of disadvantage. We are currently developing these measures right now – family breakdown, problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency – and we will report each year on these life chances as well.”

The Conservatives are claiming that poverty arises because of the “faulty” lifestyle choices of people with personal deficits and aim to reconstruct the identities of poor people via psychopolitical interventions, but it is only through a wholesale commitment to eliminating poverty by addressing unemployment, underemployment, job insecurity, low paid work, inadequate welfare support and institutionalised inequalities that any meaningful social progress can be made.

Over the last five years, the UK has become the most unequal country in Europe, on the basis of income distribution and wages. If that increase in inequality arose because of individual failings, as the Conservatives are claiming, why have those personal failings only become apparent so suddenly within the past five years? The Child Poverty Action Group voiced concerns :

“The statement isn’t about strengthening efforts to end child poverty, but about burying the failure of the government’s child poverty approach. And with more cuts coming down the line, child poverty is set to rise.”

The Bell Swerve

Iain Duncan Smith draws on a framework of ideas that was shaped to a large extent by the white male supremacist musings of Charles Murray, the controversial ultra-conservative American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast.

Murray’s New Right culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits and character flaws; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities and level of abilities. Murray’s very controversial work The Bell Curve was a novel of racist pseudoscience and manipulated, misleading statistics which he used to propose that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.

According to Murray, disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior. Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the “innate deficiencies” that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.

Many critics, including myself, regard Murray as a white supremacist, a nationalist that has a long history of advocating discredited ideas that are rooted in eugenics. Nonetheless, Murray has had a significant influence on Conservative thinking about welfare in particular, both here in the UK and across the Atlantic.

“Unless the government sets out a clear target for improving the life chances of the poorest families, its agenda for healing social division in our country will lack both ambition and credibility.”

The Children’s Commissioner issued a statement regarding the repeal of the Child Poverty Act:

“The Child Poverty Act targets were not just about relative poverty – which is a measure of inequality, important in itself – but also included a measure of material deprivation. Critically, the new measures proposed today would not include any tangible measure of poverty, hunger, cold, or deprivation of any kind. Poverty is a financial measure. Unemployment statistics and statistics on educational attainment are already collected.

“The majority of children living in poverty have at least one parent who is working. Employment is important but if wages do not rise substantially in relation to living costs it will not provide a route out of poverty alone. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has today published a report stating that families with children working full-time on the National Minimum Wage are now 15% short of the Minimum Income Standard that people believe offers an acceptable standard of living.  Today’s announcement will effectively confine to history any figures on the millions of children being raised in families who experience in-work poverty denying them necessities such as adequate food, clothing and heating.”

Last year, the Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

Austerity cuts are disproportionately targeted at the poorest. It’s particularly shameful that absolute poverty has returned to Britain since 2010, given that we are the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. That indicates clearly just how much inequality has increased under the Conservatives since 2010.

Poverty and inequality are a consequence of the way that society is organised, political decision-making and how resources are allocated through discriminatory government policies.

Poverty arises because of the behaviour of the powerful and wealthy, not the poor.

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See also:

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

The just world fallacy

The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor

The New New Poor Law

UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world”

Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to get something from nothing

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_oPictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone