In sociology and politics, it’s common to talk about the Working Class, Middle Class, and Upper Class. I’ve never found this framework particularly useful, since it is not very well defined. There is a lot of flexibility to fit oneself or others into whichever category is most convenient to the current conversation, and that often isn’t helpful.

I propose an alternative model that is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This model does not make any value judgement, nor does it imply any sort of should be — it merely observes current society. It is not backed by extensive research of any kind. Any feedback is welcome through the Contact Page.

The Framework

I call this framework The Scarcity Ladder, because it describes different levels (or Realms) of access to resources in society. Someone at level 1 consumes less resources, produces less resources, and has less resources than someone at level 5.

When I say more resources or less resources, I am referring to dollar value as determined by a market. So for example we could say that one person’s manual labor is more useful to society than a luxury yacht, nonetheless in our present society, the yacht has the higher dollar value, and is more scarce, thus limiting the people who have access to it. The ladder describes different levels of access to these scarce resources.

1 – SurvivalAnyone who is most desperately concerned with basic physiological and safety needs. They may not have reliable shelter or a stable economic livelihood.
2 – JobAnyone with basic economic stability but no significant safety net. They do not have a clear path to career growth. Their work may seem less fulfilling, as its primary purpose is to put food on the table.
3 – CareerSkilled workers with a clear career path that will increase their wealth over time and provide the opportunity for retirement. This includes professionals, who may find strong meaning in their work, and often contribute intellectual services of some kind (for example, a lawyer might contribute a legal opinion to a client).
4 – ExperienceAnyone who has sufficient wealth to no longer be concerned with putting food on the table. They might never work again and still live a comfortable life. They may have either achieved this state or been born into it. Perhaps they do work, but they only do so for experience and meaning — in fact, this segment of society is a major consumer of experience products, such as vacations and luxury yachts. They do not necessarily have enough resources yet to change the world.
5 – ImpactAnyone who has sufficient power, influence, and wealth to create substantial impact for the world. This includes billionaires, talking heads, politicians, and executives. They are concerned most with leadership, though they also consume experiences. They think about society as a whole. Examples include Bill Gates and Elon Musk. Many want to create a lasting cultural legacy that survives beyond their own lifetime.

My basic thesis is that most people want to move up this ladder. If a random person was selected and they were given one billion dollars, then I expect that they would initially live in the realm of Experience, where they would start by acquiring physical luxuries. However, they would soon grow bored of this, and would start engaging in influence and philanthropy as part of a search for meaning. They would then enter the realm of Impact.

This model diverges from traditional ones in a few areas. For example, an electrician might be conventionally seen as part of a Blue Collar or Working Class. However, I would place them into the Career Realm if they have a path for steadily increasing economic stability over time.

Nonetheless, we can certainly say that this model does not apply perfectly to everyone. I would place an artist of great notoriety who is also barely able to sustain themselves financially in the Impact class, though this is a nuanced situation, and such artists are often able to leverage their notoriety into a steady source of income.


This framework is also useful as a way to think about how individuals can find more sustainability for themselves, or for how society as a whole may try to create an environment with greater mobility; a higher tide that lifts all boats.

As with a real ladder, each step is a good place to prepare for the next one. For example, someone who can barely survive might not be able to yet change the world, but maybe they can get a job. Someone with a job might be able to find a career, and someone with a career might be able to earn enough to create lasting stability (entering the Experience Realm), or perhaps create Impact.

If we zoom out to the societal level, the question becomes: how can the society move as many people as possible to the highest positions on this ladder? If we examine the Impact realm, would we rather have 1 Einstein, or 1,000 Einsteins? The latter is better for society. It’s better for everyone.

Likewise, it is not good for society to have people struggling to survive, when they could instead be creating the future through science, engineering, or art. Any inequities that we find in the society are not only unjust, but also mean that less value is being created. The genius of less potential Ensteins is being tapped than could be.

I will not offer any solutions in this post, as I am instead offering a framework to examine this problem. However I will note that there are some initiatives that do aim to raise the baseline at a societal level, which include the ideas of universal free college education, Universal Basic Income (as proposed by former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang), and initiatives by the United Nations to eliminate Absolute Poverty (the condition of living on less than $1 per day). These changes would modify this resource allocation structure, which then creates more sustainability, and per my thesis, more value created.


When we go about distributing resources, we must not lose sight of the fact that those resources are scarce, which is why we don’t have everything that we want already. The environment is a particularly important issue here. More generally: we must not use our resources so quickly as to only benefit the short term.

For a long time, I have argued that climate change is an instance of the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, and that the most effective long term solution is to create affordable access to green technology, such that no one wants to use the old tech because it’s more expensive and isn’t as good. Otherwise, a situation is created where entities are incentivized to make promises they don’t fulfill, just as a player in the Prisoner’s Dilemma is incentivized to promise not to rat out their accomplice, but then proceed to do so every time.

If we are able to tackle these problems of long term sustainability, then we can start thinking about benefiting society through sustained, stable growth. It is often argued that there shouldn’t be billionaires — indeed, resources are scarce. But if we could live in a world where every person has a luxury yacht, then that would be an amazing outcome. We just can’t get there. Yet. The ultimate goal should be for every human being to live in the Impact realm, should they choose to. It is a bold dream and a far way off, but is useful as a north star.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us the most basic things we value. If we map those ideas onto different levels of economic access to resources, we can create a framework that is more useful than traditional ideas like Working Class, Middle Class, etc. If we think about the allocation of resources in these terms, not as a zero sum game, but as a pie that gets bigger as more people have access to resources, then perhaps we can create both a more equitable and a more prosperous world.