In my last post, I showed trends in answers to four questions in the General Social Survey proposing possible explanations for why blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than whites. The proposed explanations were discrimination, less inborn ability, less chance at education, and lack of motivation. I briefly mentioned the relationships of answers to these questions to opinions about what should be done, but thought it deserved more attention.
Here are results from regressions of opinions on "Some people think that (Blacks/Negroes/African-Americans) have been discriminated against for so long that the government has a special obligation to help improve their living standards. Others believe that the government should not be giving special treatment to (Blacks/Negroes/African-Americans" (HELPBLK) and "Here is a card with a scale from 1 to 7. Think of a score of 1 as meaning that the government ought to reduce the
income differences between rich and poor, and a score of 7 meaning that the government should not concern itself with reducing income differences. What score between 1 and 7 comes closest to the way you feel?" (EQWLTH) on answers to the four questions about reasons. A positive coefficient means that "yes" is associated with more liberal opinions (government should help blacks or reduce the difference between rich and poor). Standard errors are in parentheses.
Discrimination .776 .419
Ability -.055 .051
Education .427 .190
Motivation -.325 -.174
As you might expect, people who say that differences are due to discrimination or less chance for education are more liberal on both questions; people who say that differences are due to lack of motivation are more conservative. But beliefs about whether differences are because blacks have "less in-born ability to learn" make little or no difference. This is more surprising.
Some philosophical defenses of egalitarianism hold that whether or not there are innate differences is irrelevant. For example, in 1929 R. H, Tawney said the idea "that men are, on the whole, very similar in their natural endowments of character and intelligence . . . is a piece of mythology against which irresistible evidence has been accumulated by biologists and psychologists." But he went on to say that didn't matter--the equality he valued was "not equality of capacity or attainment, but of circumstances, and institutions, and manner of life." (Equality, pp. 34, 37). That is, people of different natural abilities should have different jobs, but not radically different standards of living.
However, you don't hear this sort of thing much today. For example, Charles Murray (Coming Apart, p. 298) says that the belief that people "are equal, or nearly so, in their latent abilities and characteristics" is a foundation of the welfare state. Many of his critics seem to go even farther, saying that talk about innate differences means denying people's "right to exist." But for the average person, it doesn't seem to matter much.
PS: there was no evidence to support my suggestion in the previous post that people who answered "no" to all were more conservative.