A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Should we only produce what people want?

In The Affluent Society (1958), JK Galbraith wrote: 'One cannot defend production as satisfying wants if that production creates the wants.'

Does that mean nobody should make anything until a lot of people say they want it? 
It was a time of transition. We were only 13 years out of our second crippling war and only three years out of food rationing. Cooking with butter seemed wasteful and extravagant, washing machines were a luxury and dishwashers were still about 30 years away from being commonplace – but the pace of change was accelerating. 

There was a bit more money about and people enjoyed spending it. After the best part of half-a-century, during which time demand exceeded supply and goods had only to be produced in order for them to be bought, producers began to feel the need to stimulate demand through marketing and advertising. 

To Galbraith and others, such demand was artificial rather than organic and was clear evidence that a gullible public was being duped into buying things they didn’t need. Hence his belief that "One cannot defend production as satisfying wants if that production creates the wants".

Today, the thought that nothing should be produced unless and until a natural demand for it has been clearly demonstrated is universally accepted as absurd. No placarded marchers in Parliament Square led to the invention of the internet and the world wide web. Who demanded communications satellites? And what are they now – luxuries or necessities? Wants or needs? Thankfully, there’ll never be a permanent answer to any such questions because time can change everything. So we shouldn’t be too hard on the highly intelligent JK Galbraith.

The jury’s out – there are many compelling reasons being presented from all sides, but I’m really interested in your personal opinion on the future of the BBC. Do you think the licence fee is a suitable way of funding our national broadcaster in the 21st century?
It may be a suitable way but it may not be the best way. Let me start with the only two things I’m certain about. 

The BBC should not be funded by advertising. Even if there was more than enough advertising money sloshing around to fund traditional advertising media and with loads left over, none of it should go to the BBC. Every day, the commercial TV stations face head-on competition from the ad-free BBC. That it continues to command as high a share of market as it does is permanent, ongoing, irrefutable evidence that the very carrying of advertisements doesn’t, of itself, make television programmes lower their standards or threaten popularity. 

The very presence of the BBC has meant that the commercial channels have minded their manners, knowing as they do that the viewing public always has that choice: with ads or without ads. The moment that choice disappeared, we’d lose the priceless certainty that this continuous research programme provides us with.

The BBC should not only be at arm’s length from government but at a few thousand kilometres’ length from government. The prospect of any part of any government department influencing what the BBC does or says should be so impossibly remote that it never even occurs to them (or their advisors) to try. Anyone who thought that that’s exactly what the royal charter guaranteed will have had their complacency severely shaken by the pensioners’ licence fee affair. 

On alternative funding, I start from the apple-pie belief that, wherever possible, people should pay for what they consume and shouldn’t be expected to pay for what they don’t. For years, I’ve been waiting for a simple, touch-button, fraud-free system of micro-payments to surface. I keep hearing that one’s just around the corner – and then silence falls again. It could be the answer for the BBC – and, come to that, the salvation for newspapers. Until then, the licence fee seems as good as anything; though I’d hope not for much longer.

Does the amount of free work creative teams have to put in to get their first job now worry you? If so, what should we do about it? 
It’s an unforgivable abuse of power, of the rich over the poor and the vulnerable. Agencies should cut it out. Either that or stop complaining when their clients clobber them with late payment terms.