On its last legs or healthy enough to be milked?

In The Strange Death of Tory England, a book full of great lines, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes,

Just as the labour movement had never been quite sure whether the capitalist system was on its last legs and needed only a final push to be toppled, or was healthy enough to be milked over and again, so the cultural-intellectual left had never quite decided whether it liked increasing prosperity or not.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a sense of who’s who in British politics of the past 40 years. It’s the best political book I’ve read in awhile–maybe it helps to read about another country, it gives some distance on things.

Anyway, I like the above quote. I would add something analogous for conservatives, that they have never been quite sure whether the capitalist system is an amazing wealth machine with even low-income people being rich on an absolute scale, or whether the system is so fragile that people can barely afford to pay their taxes and that any particular tax or regulation will bankrupt the system. [Unfortunately, try as I might, I can’t manage to phrase this as aphoristically as Wheatcroft did.]

I suppose that every political movement must balance between triumphalism and alarmism. For another example, environmentalists will announce their progress in protecting the environment and warn of all the horrible things that will happen if more isn’t done. From the other direction, business groups will say that we can’t afford to protect the environment (we want jobs, not owls) but at the same time insist that the environment is better than ever.

The political science research project all this would be to study these ideologies more systematically and see which groups follow different patterns in their statements.