It should be no news by this time that intellectuals are fully as subject to the vagaries of fashion as are the hemlines of women’s skirts.
Apparently, intellectuals tend to be victims of a herd mentality. Thus, when John Kenneth Galbraith published his best-selling The Affluent Society in 1958, every intellectual and his brother was denouncing America as suffering from undue and excessive affluence; yet, only two or three years later, the fashion suddenly changed, and the very same intellectuals were complaining that America was rife with poverty. In all too many of these ideological sprees, capitalism is blamed for whatever illness is being focused on at the moment; the same capitalism supposedly responsible for making us all surfeited with material goods in 1958 was to be equally guilty for rendering the nation poverty-stricken in 1961.
Another leading example was the “stagnation thesis,” propounded by many economists in the late thirties and early forties. The stagnation thesis held that capitalism had come to the end of its rope, since there was no room for any further technological inventions and, therefore, for capital investment. Capitalism was therefore doomed to perpetual and growing mass unemployment. After this notion had faded away, the early and mid-sixties produced precisely the opposite damning indictment of the capitalist system. Numerous intellectuals, including the self-same proclaimers of the stagnation thesis, now asserted that imminent automation and cybernation were going to lead quickly to permanent and growing mass unemployment for practically everyone because there would be no work for any mere men to do. Happily, the automation hysteria has faded away in the intellectual fashions of recent years. But we can see that in many of these cases, through the rampant contradictions, there runs one crucial thread: whatever the problem, the market economy is held to be the culprit.1