One of the most important concepts in modern economics is the idea of demand. A functioning economy has to have a healthy level of demand in it for lack of demand invariably leads to the most awful specter of all: recession. Therefore, governments carefully track how much demand there is and are careful to apply a stimulus whenever it looks as if there isn’t any. This involves maneuvers like lowering interest rates, cutting taxes, and loosening credit in all manner of ways. For example, in a typical piece of demand stimulus in December 2008, fearing a recession, the Australian government gave a present of $1,000 to every family in the country, encouraging them to go out and spend so as to avoid economic disaster. Currently, the focus of economics is entirely on the quantity of demand, on trying to get people to spend more money on, well, pretty much anything. It’s not what we spend money on interest economists it’s that they spend it on something. Very little attention has, so far, ever been devoted to the issue of the quality of demand. It’s considered entirely irrelevant, by economists and governments, what people are spending on. They might be buying donuts, or taking French conversation classes, seeing a psychotherapist, or purchasing a sports car. In terms of GDP, unemployment, and stock market it doesn’t matter in the least what they’re buying so long as the total spend is high enough. The only caveat is that it is a headache for the state if too much expenditure goes to overseas businesses. Yet, clearly in other ways it does matter what we spend our money on because the combined purchasing choices of millions of people shapes the kind of society we live in and the kinds of lives most of us end up leading. If everyone wants game shows on TV, and doughnuts with marzipan coating for supper, a lot of us will end up working in those industries. If on the other hand there is little demand poetry, or couples therapy, or ritualized tea drinking by moonlight in straw and wooden huts (it was big in 16th century Japan), few people can end up working in these areas and if they do they won’t earn much. This is where a major statement of value judgment comes in: there is better and worse demand. Demand for handguns is, we can say with assurance, less good than demand for education. Demand for healthy food is better than demand for junk food. Our societies should feel less nervous about treading into the area of values. After all, in our own lives we know there are better and worse things to spend money on, and that’s not different at a macroscale. Good demand is defined as a consumer choice that’s in line with fruitful needs. It properly pays off. It contributes to better lives in the long term. There wouldn’t be a single set of purchases right for everyone, but that’s not the point. The issue is merely to get the debate started and to draw attention to the fact that there are better and worse purchasing decisions and that a society needs to discuss what these might be instead of just focusing on demand, per say. Raising the quality of demand doesn’t imply a draconian government imposing some supposedly high-minded agenda on a reluctant public. Demand, in a market oriented democratic society, is and can only ever be voluntary. Raising demand can’t be a matter of forcing anyone to do anything. But what we need is the more important, more humane task of encouraging ourselves to be wiser in our purchasing decisions. A phenomenon we don’t pay enough attention to is: the education of the consumer. Poor choices are not innate, unmovable characteristics. They’re simply what happens when you don’t have the chance to learn. With the right engaging guides we can overhaul our ideas of what we want in many areas. We’ve done it to a great extent already around food, but travel, furniture, housing design, education, psychotherapy, and relationships all stand in need a little help. If good demand were more normal it would transform society. There’d be fewer jobs that felt demeaning or degrading because more demand would be directed towards more meaningful needs. Profit wouldn’t look sinister or suspect, it would be a sign that a company was doing the right thing and doing it rather brilliantly. it would be a sign that a company was doing the right thing and doing it rather brilliantly. We’ve been too ready to accept that what people want is some kind of immovable force. In fact, it’s entirely subject to change. It’s simply a pity that the only people who actively seek to change what people want are corporations, with very large advertising budgets and often rather doubtful things to sell us. It’s time for philosophers and others to engage in a complex ethical task of influencing public wants. We need to take up the task of creating better demand.