You are asking a very good question but the answer requires some history that is never simple. Tripartite systems of social organization and rule are ancient and vary from culture to culture but have the same structure. These are part of the range of ways that humans choose to be ruled by what we know as authoritarian systems. These are classes constituting clerical, military, and commoners.
The long struggle, in the West, toward egalitarianism and elimination of rigid class boundaries, controlled by birth, broke this down over the last two hundred years. In France, the lead kingdom (emerging nation-state) until the 20th century was defined as three ‘estates’: nobility, clergy, and 3rd Estate of farmers and workers. This applies across the West, Middle East, India, China, etc.
As the population increased, the commoners became increasingly complex. But the answer to your question is, yes, we are commoners without power. You may remember that the French Revolution was the result of Louis XVI having called the Estates-General to solve his financial problems. Originally these estates’ (classes) representatives met separately and each estate had one vote even though the Clergy and Nobility (almost all from the same noble families) represented only about 2.5% of France’s population.
As you can see the top two estates controlled everything and while the Third Estate could express an opinion with their vote but they were always outvoted (2 to 1). Incidentally, the French Revolution started when parts of the Clergy sided with the merchants and clerical officials in the Third Estate to meet together and vote by representatives rather than by estate. They then changed their name to the National Assembly and everything changed.
Very broadly, staying with French history, the old tripartite system had disintegrated and was in full collapse. There were clerical (see above) and nobles who saw that this had to change radically. But these authoritarian systems, though they looked simple and ‘natural’ as they claimed to justify their rule, were actually complex. So there were people in the Third Estate who were both rich and educated but were still treated as simple farmers in order to keep control over 98% of the population.
We have been tricked into giving control to the billionaire class as an aristocracy that has used old techniques to justify their domination of our societies and the grossly distorted and disastrous hypercapitalist economy that guarantees most assets flow to them.
As I noted this is not a peasantry all working the land and four months from starvation if famine or drought occur, but people held powerlessly and with very limited ability to build capital under a capitalist system. And that system is deadly and unsustainable even if it could be fixed.
The best analysis of this, which I am now using, is Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital and Ideology. The percentages of the French population above are from that book that I am reading now. To my pleasant surprise, he has reached the same conclusions that I have but has now built 1,000 pages of detailed history, and economic data to support this.
I will be writing more about what Piketty has built as he is the top historical economist of the 21st century.