Soon after moving to central Minnesota in the summer of 2011, I visited one of the region’s landmarks, the Mall of America: a four-million-square-foot collection of more than five hundred stores that includes an amusement park, a hotel, and twelve thousand parking spaces. As I roamed the mall’s crowded corridors, a set of half-forgotten phrases crashed around in my mind. I vaguely recalled that they came from something Pope John Paul II had said or written, but I couldn’t remember the precise source. Once home, I found the passage I had in mind. It could hardly have been more appropriate to the occasion:
The mere accumulation of goods and services, even for the benefit of the majority, is not enough for the realization of human happiness.... Side-by-side with the miseries of underdevelopment, themselves unacceptable, we find ourselves up against a form of super-development, equally inadmissible, because like the former it is contrary to what is good and to true happiness. This super-development, which consists in an excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of “possession” and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better.