It would be a mistake to suppose that conditions would have been very different if there had been no elite to appropriate the economic surplus.  Without the elite, there would have been no economic surplus, since population growth would have kept pace with gains in productivity--at least prior to the development of modern methods of birth control.  Strange as it may seem, until modern times there was an economic surplus in societies chiefly because the ambitions of the elite kept the growth of population in check (1966, p.64).