Firstly it is helpful to posit a definition of rampant consumerism which means an unchecked or an unrestrained attitude to consumption resulting in an excessive attachment to possessions or alternatively what might be charertised as conspicuous consumption.
Modernity’s shift to "consumerism” is a phenomena of improved industrialization, manufacturing, transportation and communication as globally produced goods and services offer cheaper prices with more choices to those who have the means and desire. The Christian viewpoint shows a wide disparity in opinion with the extremes of religious fundamentalism link salvation to increased material wealth whilst our Catholic emphasis is on social justice and having regard to those most vulnerable within any community.
Whilst ‘consumerism” is a modern phenomenon the underlying human condition to gravitate to materialism seems unchanged - given the opportunity a desire arises to accumulate material wealth. As the bible says “There is nothing new under the sun” – we still wear the same clothes only trying out new fashions or garments made from different materials. Turning back to the pages of the Old Testament one reads the story of Solomon who was both wise and ruled as king during a period of unrivalled prosperity. Solomon was successful on a number of fronts- as a great trader and one who secured from King Hiram of Phoenicia the raw materials for the mgnificent temple. But towards the end of his reign he succumbed to the great trappings of immense wealth and worshipped idols.
The point to all of this is that all of us, even those with the Wisdom of Solomon, may not be immune to an excessive desire for material goods. It also serves as a sobering reminder that what we may regard as basic human material needs can be the equivalent of rampant consumerism to a struggling African family or even those homeless within our shores. This is not so much a question of trying to make people feel guilty – rather that people come first and money second and one determines what one can reasonably share after first providing adequately for ourselves and family.
This applies to nations just as it does to individuals and the amount we are willing to pledges in aid. Going against the trend it is remarkable that a tiny country such as Ireland recently upped its aid to other countries both as a percentage of GDP and in the quantum during a period of economic hardship.
Although you cannot effectively legislate morality or orchestrate more even social outcomes you can have regulations to ensure free markets operate in a regulatory environment which specify basic human rights. We can make provision for safety nets and ensure ethical principles or codes are operational for both corporations and citizens alike.
The irony is once nations become industrialized, more equal societies almost always do much better in terms of health, well-being and social cohesion and that it is the large income inequalities which have the capacity to destroy the social fabric and the quality of life for everyone. Much of this inequality is driven by rampant consumerism which creates a need to have more and be rewarded with more as end unto itself which can lead to treating people like goods.
The trouble with having too many possessions is that eventually they may own you