First, a definition: Positive economic activity is that which makes more wealth in the world. To paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke, it "moves lower-valued resources to higher values". From our discussion above, it's activity which makes a bigger economic pie with more for everyone to eat.
Imagine we start with nothing, except that you live on a lot full of trees, sticks, and vines; I live on land covered with rocks and flint. We trade, do some work, and -- viola! -- we now have axes for ourselves and to sell to others. We're all just a bit richer, and our lives, just a bit better. We can trade with the fruit-people and eat. And we can chop down a tree or five, build shelters, and get inside, away from the cold. We're all richer, fewer of us are dying from exposure, and life is better all around.
We have made the world a better place.
Now consider Quixtar: In Quixtar, there are basiclly two kinds of economic activity. The first is that people buy a lot of stuff from Quixtar corporation. But this isn't generally a significant improvement, since people already had ways of buying similar or identical stuff -- either online or up the street. So the addition of that activity doesn't change the overall economic picture much. Nobody's really getting anything they didn't get before.
(But some of your money now gotes to Quixtar's owners, rather than the owners of your neighborhood stores, or Land's End, or whatever.)
BUT, the product costs must be increased slightly in order to pay bonuses back to the "uplines" who signed up each consumer. So, looking only at this part of the equation so far, people are generally paying more and getting less because of those bonuses. So that's a net negative effect. That part of the economic world is worse.
Now, what about the results of the upline payments? Well, this certainly generates some activity, too, doesn't it? The net effect of this activity is that IBOs, in order to position themselves to receive these payments at some point in the future, run around trying to contact their friends (and strangers), and spend their time, and their friends' time, telling them about this great new opportunity.
There are two things I'd like to note about this:
(1) Such meetings seemed designed to give as little information as possible. This means that people who are accustomed to knowing the cost of things before they buy them have to spend a lot of time, as I did, doing research in order to find out all kinds of things their sponsor already knows, but won't tell them -- or things their sponsor doesn't know, but really should.
(2) Then there are a lot of repeat contacts. Because the come-on is often mysterious, and doesn't mention the word "Quixtar", a person actually has to sit down with the sponsor to find out if it's Quixtar again. ("Oh, this sounds like Amway...")
Looked at as a whole, this is a very inefficient way to get the word out about Quixtar. A billboard sign and a few ad on TV would do the job much quicker and more cheaply and efficiently. (Why this is not done is explained here.)
So what value does all this activity generate? None! What new food or invention was available because Stacey called me to tell me about a "business opportunity"? I would have eaten lunch anyway, that day, but wouldn't have wasted the gas to drive to a lunch meeting I didn't enjoy. I might have just driven around the block a dozen times for all the difference it made.
Marketing, sales, and talk, on their own, don't make the world wealther. And this activity is all about talk. Remember, in the previous example, wealth (in the form of the flint axes) was actually created. But none of this activity creates wealth. It just burns it in a very inefficient manner.
In the end, the vast majority of Quixtar IBOs will drop out without ever having broken even. But consider what they could have done: If they really, really enjoyed it all, then it was no worse than a vacation. But if they could have worked elsewhere, then the world is definitely a poorer place, and we are without whatever contributions they might have given us with those hours.
(Imagine, for example, they'd decided to do community service instead. We'd have more, better playgrounds. Or imagine they'd done landscaping -- people in town would have had slightly better selection and quality when they wanted to landscape their yard.)
So, looking at the whole of Amway activity, nothing of significance is produced.