In the first stage, people work hard and prosper, and a few of them become rich.
In the second stage, the rich become an established class, able to grow their wealth through investment, or waste it in idleness. Successful working people rise up to replenish this class, while its less competent members drop out.
In the third stage, the class has political power and sets the terms for how working people can prosper. They control, and take a big cut from, most means by which it’s possible to rise through hard work. Both the upper and the middle classes still have growth, but moving between classes becomes rare.
In the fourth stage, the upper class convinces itself that the wealth produced by labor is actually generated by capital, and that therefore they are entitled to it. Now the ruling class’s wealth grows while working people make no gains at all, and are reduced to just struggling to stay above their less fortunate neighbors.
In the final stage, the ruling class decides it’s entitled to not just the new wealth produced by working people, but to their existing assets as well. They try to take all money from everyone and reduce everyone but themselves to poverty. To succeed fully would, of course, collapse the whole system, or at least reduce it to something no more advanced than feudalism, but they try to cut it as close as possible while keeping everyone still toiling. This stage usually only reaches its complete form when the target people live far away from their masters, after they’ve been conquered or colonized.
We’re solidly in the fourth stage now and some are recklessly trying to push us toward the fifth. But the good news is, we can turn back at any time. We’ve done it before.