Yes, this claim looks bald. But the reasoning’s simple.
Let’s start from the assumption (which might be questionable) that high levels of personal debt were a contributory factor to the recession, and/or that a desire to pay down this debt might hold back the recovery.
The question then arises: why is debt so high?
TV advertising, that‘s one reason. A new paper by Matthew Baker and Lisa George establish this very cleverly. They exploited the fact that TV’s spread across the US in the 1950s was uneven, with some areas getting it earlier than others. They show that, in those areas where TV reception arrived earlier, households were more likely to take on debt.
In other words, TV - and TV advertising - contributes to household borrowing. This is because adverts don’t just raise demand for one good relative to another. They raise demand for goods generally relative to leisure. And because we can’t increase our labour supply quickly, this demand for goods leads to increased borrowing.
In this sense, commercial TV is one cause of high debt. So the existence of a licence fee-funded BBC is a bulwark against households becoming over-indebted. It’s a force for economic stability.
Except for one thing. Baker and George also show that areas which got commercial TV earlier also saw men (though not women) be more likely to get jobs. This is because the same adverts that caused people to borrow more also caused them to get jobs to pay off the debt.
Whether this mechanism is sufficiently strong to offset the incentive to stay at home caused by Holly Willoughby being on daytime TV is, however, doubtful.