The Empty Quarter has always been modeled after a ‘realistic’ view of the economy – that is most people are at the bottom, and few at the top, regardless of ideology (see: Pareto Principle). Certainly, the very existence of the Imperial Aristocracy assumes this.
(But note the scare quotes around ‘realistic’: a true post-scarcity economy will still have people at the top and people at the bottom, but they will not be divided by their material wealth. This is looking to be more in line in reality, where impoverished peasants will eventually have 2 TB smartphones hooked into the cloud, before the smartphones get smarter than he is…)
Anyways, getting back to the ‘realistic’ economy.
While the desert environment is as poor and as barren as possible, there will be those cultures who either bring in a lot of money, or find a way to get riches from the sands. These high-tech, wealthy folk will need suitable accomdations, which is where the “Sustainable “vertical city” envisioned for the Sahara” near-arcology comes in.
How sci-fi is that?
This is how I view the high-tech immigrants of Gobi system live, who love the wildness and the fierce environments of the sector… but prefer to keep their distance from the actual residence. “A ten light-year buffer zone should be good enough…”
The rich do want to enjoy their riches, and live ‘in the style they have grown accustomed to’, but certain kinds of rich people prefer to greatly separate themselves from the poor.
But there are those wealthy men who don’t mind plunking their estates right in the middle of the ghetto or the favela. But even these tycoons have walls and guards – “All gardens must have walls, and all walls must have armed men” – and few are so connected to the surrounding community that they can just go out on a stroll, dripping with wealth, without a bodyguard or three.
Traveller sociology: I suggest that those elites who can do this are generally Vilani, who are recognized and legitimate feudal-technocratic-corporate leaders of their communities. They pay the local Vilani as employees, and the local Vilani protect their meal ticket… the leadership arrange for security for their estate, but are willing to set aside 20% of their armed assets to provide law & order for their neighbours Beyond the Wall. The corporate masters take responsibility for their surroundings – and by taking responsibility, they gain legitimate authority.
“This is how Ruling Houses are made.”