Robert Samuelson (Sun Journal, Feb. 20) disagrees with 20th century economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s ideas that “the social usefulness of private spending” had reached its limits, and companies were keeping production high by creating demand for unnecessary goods via advertising, while the public sector languished for lack of funds.

Samuelson tells us “advertising does not foist products on most consumers that they would not otherwise want. People don’t have to be convinced to fly, to use the internet, or to go to a good restaurant. Advertising determines mostly which brands people buy.” That flies in the face of decades of psychological research. Why do fashion and fitness magazines exist? To make us feel bad about our appearance, so we will buy cosmetics, clothing and diet aids. Why would members of an industry (Samuelson’s competing brands) band together in lobbying organizations which (Sun Journal, Feb. 20, page B2), spent $360,000 on lobbying in Maine in December and January and paid lobbyists $2.7 million in 2018?

To understand how psychological theory, channeled through the capitalist vision of Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations,” produced the modern marketing industry, I recommend Century of the Self, a 2002 British documentary. Samuelson chooses to ignore the essence of effective advertising: it is invisible, affecting us on an unconscious level.

Samuelson then builds on this sleight-of-hand argument to dispute Galbraith’s solution to the disappearing link between production and needs: an expanded public sector, providing services that reduce the gap between haves and have-nots in an already vastly wealthy society.

Using “then-and-now” numbers on car ownership, indoor plumbing and life expectancy to affirm the American path from subsistence to affluence, Samuelson agrees with Galbraith that we are wealthier now. Slyly, however, he skips right over the elephant in the room — with increased wealth has come increased inequality. The World Bank’s estimate of income inequality (GINI Index) places the U.S. between Uganda and Turkey, with 99 nations doing better. Our GINI Index has risen from 34.6 in 1979 to 41.5 in 2016 (perfect income equality equals 0). Looking at total family wealth, Fortune found that the U.S. had both the greatest wealth and highest wealth inequality of nations examined.

Why worry that Samuelson acknowledges our growing wealth, but ignores our ballooning inequality? Because this omission underpins the conservative argument against Galbraith’s “expanded public sector,” including family leave, universal health care and social safety nets similar to those of many European nations.

If we are all better off (let’s ignore that huge wealth gap) and we are all happily buying what we want (let’s ignore the influence of advertising), then we are each responsible for our own lot in life, and the poor should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Like Donald Trump did (let’s ignore Fred).

Seri Lowell, Buckfield