Bioethics News

Can we slim down the welfare state without eugenics?

The restless rent-a-crowd of British university protesters has a new enemy: Adam Perkins, a lecturer in the neuroscience of personality at King’s College London, who is accused of being a eugenicist.

Dr Perkins published a book called The Welfare Trait in December which almost settled quietly into the obscurity of dusty academic controversy. However, someone discovered what a radical threat it posed to the welfare state and marshalled the troops. In February he had to cancel a talk at the London School of Economics because of threats to disrupt it. He has been reviled on a minor Twitters storm with tweets like “He’s a bitter little man with a huge chip on his shoulder, here’s hoping he continues to stay out of future gene pools.”

His offence? Espousing Malthusian ideas as a solution to the ailments of the welfare state in the UK.

Perkins’s central argument is that “the welfare state increases the number of children at risk of developing personality profiles that make them less likely to get a job … Individuals with aggressive, rule-breaking and antisocial personality characteristics are over-represented among welfare claimants.”

After crunching the numbers he claims that women on welfare have more children, leading to an ever-increasing generations of people with “employment-resistant personalities”.

However, Perkins is an economist and he notes that people on welfare still act rationally. If welfare decreases, they respond with lower fertility. Studies have shown that “ claimants used less contraception when there were increases in the amount of benefits available and the number of children born to welfare claimants rose by 1% for every 3% rise in benefit generosity.”

Critics, especially disability groups, have accused Perkins of being a eugenicist who wants to “breed out” welfare claimants.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.