So recently I have encountered some political action by a group thinking drastically differently from me, and in an effort to model what the hell was going on, I may have finally figured out what the hell being middle class means, or rather what people intuitively mean by it when they say it.
For the longest time I was frustrated that seemingly _everyone_ self identified as middle class. Minimum wage walmart workers, right up to business owners reporting $500K a year on their income tax. That always seemed absurd and incomprehensible to me. After all who does that leave as the lower class? What about the rich? I think I get it now.
The first critical insight, and one that I have had for a while, is that middle class is not an income, it's a state of mind. It just happens to be a state of mind that correlates with a (wide) income level. The middle class are the people who "Have something to lose". That something might be potential, status, property, responsibility, or social connections. But the core thing that defines them is that they have something that they care about.
There are two very important repercussions to that idea, the first is they can be controlled and punished through what they care about. If you fine the middle class, they have money to be taken away, and they feel it's loss. If you put the middle class in jail for a few nights it disrupts their family life, their work life, and generally makes a mess of things.
The second repercussion is that they are interested in growing whatever it is they have, and as a corollary, they have an interest in making the system they are embedded in work better. They value things like efficiency, and are most emphatically NOT interested in going through the trauma that a societal reboot might cause, because it will present a serious risk to the thing they have.
Those who have exited the middle class on the bottom are not so much the poor, as the "Nothing Left To Loose" crowd. They have so thoroughly been failed by the current system, by the world as it stands, that they have nothing they particularly need to defend. If you fine them, it doesn't matter because they have no money anyway. If you put them in jail for a few nights it causes minimal disruption to their lives. Physical violence, and long term incarceration both remain dangerous to them, but even these things loose their threat, not because they are less painful, but because they are so likely to happen at random that a little extra exposure to the risk doesn't matter much one way or another.
Because they have no horse in the race, they don't have any interest in seeing the society at large function any more efficiently. In fact, given a lot of the recent history of there interaction with the larger society, the LESS effective it becomes, the less it's going to attack them.
On a recent trip to Kupang, a small and poor city in Indonesia, I also got a bit of understanding about what exiting the middle class at the top looks like.
So first the money thing... It's not so much a dollar amount, as a point where it simply stops being a consideration from day to day, or year to year. In Kupang I spent very little money, partly because prices were lower, but mostly because there simply was nothing expensive enough to spend much money on. It simply stopped being a consideration... if a think existed it was in my budget.
I suspect that exiting the middle class from the top is partially a matter of having enough money that one occupies a similar space to the one I did in Kupang, and can reasonably expect to stay there with little or no effort. Consumerism simply doesn't work on the powerful anymore. A luxury good that seems to be included in this list of things a rich person buys without thinking about is one-time exceptions to the rules.
The Rich are difficult to control with fines, which are never actually big enough to matter, or jail because they can easily purchase exceptions too the rules. They also have no inherent interest in things running efficiently because they also have no horses in the race, Their horses have all crossed the finish-line already, they DO however (usually) have an interest in seeing a prevention of major societal reboots. (usually. Sometimes they position themselves to win from them. )
The second thing that, I suspect, represents an exit from the top is a hand in designing the rules. The rich struggle with each-other to define the rules of the game, and to acquire power. It's a different game up there, and I don't really understand it. But I can tell that the $300k/year lawyer/doctor isn't playing it. They "have something left to loose" and have to keep working to defend it.