Academic research and writing so rarely makes any difference to anything. You can spend years working on a project, publish the results, and almost nobody reads it.
Working for a think tank is almost exactly the reverse of this. The pressure is on to work fast and respond to issues as they arise. Then when you do publish, you get to broadcast your ideas in newspaper op-eds, radio interviews and TV documentaries. Sometimes - just occasionally - even the politicians pay attention.
Scroll down this page to see a selection of my reports for Civitas, Policy Exchange and the Centre for Independent Studies.
I am a Professorial Fellow at Civitas - a small, London-based think tank that engages in research and in practical community-based activities designed to strengthen social cohesion by promoting good citizenship.
Over the last ten years or so I have published four major reports with them. All four can be downloaded free of charge, or they can be purchased in hard copy through Amazon.
Social Mobility Truths
The fourth in a series of publications for Civitas on social mobility, the first dating back to 1996.
In this latest version, published in 2019, I review all the key evidence on social mobility Britain and demonstrate conclusively that movement up and down the class ladder is widespread and that the main influences on where people end up in life are talent and hard work, not the class they were born into.
The repeated failure of politicians to grasp the truth about social mobility is resulting in damaging policies designed to rectify problems we do not have.
"A devastating book" (Prospect magazine)
Paperback (197pp) £9.00
Restoring A Nation of Home Owners
In 1990 I published a book, called A Nation of Home Owners, which was based on many years of research on the economic, political and social consequences of the spread of home ownership in Britain.
Since the turn of the century, however, home ownership rates have been falling as young people have found it increasingly difficult to afford to buy housing. In 2016, I published this Civitas report which explained why housing has now become so much more expensive than it used to be (mainly the explosion of cheap credit and the popularity of Buy-to-Let investment).
Politicians often say that building more houses will solve the problem, but it won't. The report sets out two key proposals that would - but it's doubtful if any politician would have the guts to implement them.
Paperback (153 pp) £10.00
William Beveridge's system of National Insurance, introduced after the war, was based on an instinctive sense of fairness: if you want to take out of the kitty, you must first put something in.
This 'contributory principle' has, however, long-since eroded. In this book, I outline proposals for a system of personal welfare accounts which would relieve much of the pressure on the existing state pension scheme, and might in time also help fund sickness, unemployment, parental leave and old age care.
"A brilliant essay... extremely well-written, lucid, cogent, persuasive" (Catherine Hakim)
Paperback (163 pp) £8.00
The Rise of the Equalities Industry
Why are infant mortality rates among UK families of Pakistani origin so much higher than among whites? Why are women's average wages below those of men? Why do black youths get stopped and searched by the police more than white youths? Why are there so few Afro-Caribbean students at Oxford and Cambridge?
Recent equalities laws and policies generally assume that average differences in group outcomes like these must be the result of bias and discrimination - intentional or systemic. A whole industry has arisen, generally unopposed, which aims to eradicate this 'bias', yet it is often non-existent. In all of the above examples, a little more research uncovers some much more plausible explanations. Yet the equalities industry ploughs on regardless, and the results can be devastating.
"Makes startling reading... ought to be required reading for every employer" (Minette Marin, The Sunday Times)
"So gripped was I that I was still studying it two days later"
(Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail)
Paperback (186 pp) £9.00
I've done some consultancy work for the London-based think tank, Policy Exchange - mostly on family and welfare issues. These publications can be downloaded free of charge by clicking on the links below.
How to enable families to support themselves rather than relying on handouts
How to get jobless, absentee fathers to pay something towards the costs of raising their children
The pitfalls in the child poverty statistics
I was Social Research Director at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney from 2001 to 2008, and I have maintained links with the Centre since returning to England. Indeed, I am honoured to remain a Distinguished Fellow of the Centre.
CIS is fiercely independent, both in the sense that it is non-aligned to any political party, and that it will not accept money from government, nor from any private source which tries to specify how the funds are spent. It runs on the smell of an oily rag, yet has long been one of Australia's most influential think tanks.
I have published a lot with them - this is a small selection of the books and reports (click on the links to download or go to CIS website or Amazon to purchase hard copies)
A revised edition of my critique (first published by Policy Exchange) of Wilkinson and Pickett's Spirit Level book, which received huge and uncritical acclaim from people who (like them) didn't understand statistics.
How the welfare lobby exaggerates the scale of poverty in Australia. This book sparked a storm of controversy by challenging both the welfare lobby and the Australian Bureau of Statistics - and was proved right.
How government 'churns' money by taking it from us in taxes, only to return it as welfare and family payments. How much more liberating would it be if we could keep more of our own money and use it to look after ourselves?
"There has been no book of the kind that changes a generation of policy thinking. Peter Saunders's new book, Australia's Welfare Habit, may be just that book" (The West Australian)
Has civility declined? Does it matter if it has? And what, if anything, can government do to strengthen it?
We can all agree that people who need help should be supported. We can also agree that rewards in life should reflect the contributions we make. In this 2012 lecture I spell out 3 simple rules for how welfare should be organised to reflect these two core (yet competing) ethical principles.
Policy magazine, vol.23, no.4, Summer 2007 (reprinted in The Insider Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, April 2008; translated and reprinted as ‘Kapitalismus essen Seele auf’, Merkur: Deutsche Zeitschrift fur europaisches Denken, No.708, May 2008, 389-98)
Capitalism doesn't inspire the idealistic young, as socialism and green politics do. But unlike these alternatives, it keeps raising living standards right across the world, and it gives us more freedom than ever before in history to lead our lives as we choose.
What are low ability workers to do when unskilled jobs disappear?
Part I (CIS Issue Analysis Paper, 91, 2007)
Part II (CIS Issue Analysis Paper, 93, 2008)
Technical innovation and the opening up of global markets have reduced demand for low-skilled labour in the advanced economies. Politicians say they'll train these displaced workers to take up new, high-tech jobs, but the evidence is that training is often ineffective when people have lower-than-average cognitive ability. So how do we find useful tasks for these displaced people to do in a modern economy?
Policy magazine, vol.18, no.4, Summer 2002
Comparison of crime and imprisonment rates over time in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the USA offers strong support for the view that crime can be suppressed only if governments are willing to keep locking up offenders.
CIS Occasional Paper 211, 2008
Prompted by an earlier paper (A welfare state for those who want one, opt-outs for those who don't), this collection of three essays examines the case for allowing a competent majority of the population to make their own arrangements for health and social security while retaining paternalistic state provision for those who say they can't cope unaided.
CIS Policy Forum, 16, 2009
How the 'not-for-profit' sector has been undermined by its increasing reliance on government contracts.
(a good illustration of the dilemma addressed in my first-ever academic publication, 'They make the rules', back in 1975).
Academia versus think tanks
A short article contrasting the intellectual conformity and closure of academic sociology with the invigorating free market in ideas that prevails in the think tank world.
'Academic sociology and social policy think tanks in Britain and Australia' Sociological Research Online, vol.16, no.3, 2011