Don’t Give The People What They Want, Give Them What They Need

I have just returned from holiday in France. We drove 5 hours from Calais to the Loire Valley. In that time we stopped at various service stations.

The difference between French service stations and their English equivalents could not be more marked. At one point my wife sat next to an elderly couple. The husband tucked into a fresh pastry, whilst the wife had a bowl of fresh fruit. The toilets were clean, and the prices weren’t much different than we’d paid in the local town.

In England? Well, you know the drill. Burger franchises, stinky toilets and if you want to sit down to eat the choice is fried ‘whatever you can think of frying’.

Is this what people actually want? Are the service stations responding to the demands of the customer? Or are they (literally) feeding us what gives them the biggest profit margin?

I’ve never understood the appeal of magazines such as OK or the gossip sections of tabloid newspapers. At best they seem to me something to stare at in waiting rooms rather than offering content one would choose to read. At worst they propagate a repulsive intrusion into personal lives, long lens photo-spying and doorstep journalism.

OK came about because when it was first produced, it sold. But if these publications didn’t exist, would the public demand them? Or would we just read something else?

Try this experiment. Put a group of young people aged 8-14 in a room, perhaps with some Lego. Leave them for half an hour. When you return, chances are they will be talking and/or making something. Now, put a TV in a corner and switch it on, perhaps showing adverts. Within 5 seconds they will all be staring at the screen in silence, mouths open, possibly one or two of them with a small amount of drool sliding out of the corner. They will remain in this comatose state until the TV is switched off, when they will slowly resume what they were doing.

There are times when giving people what they want is the right thing to do. But sometimes legislation is required to stop some people from doing what they want because it is not good for them, or because it is not good for everyone else. The planning laws are an obvious example of this, to stop one person from building something that suits them but is detrimental or unpleasant to others.

Toby Clark of Mintel (@Toby_Mintel) recently tweeted that he was worried to see a full page ad in the Metro for a seminar on how to use pension freedom to invest in property.

I have a friend who intends to take his £50k pension pot the moment he can and use the £30k he will be left with after tax to invest in a buy to let property. No amount of ‘past performance of the property market is no guarantee of the future’ type discussions could dissuade him.

I strongly oppose the idea of unfettered access to pension pots. Was this a change that came from consumer demand? I think not. It is a politically motivated move, designed to raise taxes (and prop up the housing market?) in time for the next General Election. Ironically the change may well suit many clients of Ovation, we can envisage lots of planning for people who are not reliant on the income from their pensions. But that doesn’t mean it is a change for the better.

When it comes to pensions, maybe we should give people what they need, not what they want.

Amazon has 45 reviews for Chris’s novel A Bridge Of Straw, average 4.5 star rating