Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. It was a game we played as children, and I remember wondering whether the spaces between blocks counted as cracks. I never believed Mom would come to any harm, and don’t know anyone who did – just one of those mild superstitions. Once you had started, however, it was a problem stopping. Even if you didn’t believe there was any direct connection between misstepping on concrete and your mother’s spinal column, actually landing on a crack carried the suggestion that you didn’t care if it did. You, vicious child, were unwilling to make this tiny sacrifice for your Mummy. In front of God and everybody you were declaring that it was perfectly all right with you if she ended up in the hospital on your account. What had started as an amusement took on deep psychological significance, ripe with opportunities for guilt, parentification, revenge, and abandonment fears.
I wonder if something like this drives socialism. Mounds of data which indicate that when nations trade, both benefit, or long depressing observation of poor countries with abundant resources remaining poor because of socialist policies do not seem to dent the socialist mentality. To turn off the spigot of government solution would look as if we didn’t care what happens to the poor. Socialism makes a statement about ourselves that we like, regardless of the practical effect. I suspect this superstition of kindness is a motivator, not because I think leftists are necessarily self-serving, but because they leap so quickly to the accusation themselves. Any free-market proposal brings forth howls that the plutocrats are abandoning the poor, and the rich manipulating the system solely for their own gain. If they think it so readily about others, they must fear it in themselves. Stepping carefully shows that they really care about their mothers. Not like you, you heedless and ungrateful child.
What happens with most children is that they step on cracks through carelessness, clumsiness, or ceasing to play, and return home to find mother in excellent spirits and health. A few repetitions of this, and they can let the whole matter go as just a game. Still, a twinge might still arise the next time the phrase occurs to them. Of course it’s silly, but why take the chance?* Worse, it will eventually occur to them: there are mothers whose backs are broken. Their children must have stepped on a crack sometime in their lives. Could it be…nah! But what if?
Even in rich, free-market countries there are poor people. Does that mean some capitalist stepped on a crack, driving them to destitution? It is an article of faith that one person’s wealth is related to another’s poverty, but I don’t think that connection is established in reality.
*Collect enough of these little rituals you can’t drop, or have some very intense ones, and you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. It is now classified as an anxiety disorder; the repetitions and incantations are seen as attempts to bind anxiety. They are often things that do have a meaning or connection with reality, but have gone beyond rationality. It is good to recheck the locks when you leave the house, good to wash your hands, good to make your letters carefully. Checking the locks 5 times is a bit much.