Multi-level marketing likely is a sort of Ponzi scheme, as you infer. Anyone familiar with the work of Dr. Albert Bartlett (University of Colorado, Boulder) on exponential growth will intuitively understand this. Chris Martenson made liberal use of these ideas — rightly so and to his credit — in The Crash Course.
If you are looking for something akin to a Third Way in constructing a fair economic system, you might check out Distributism. Start with a Wikipedia search and go from there. It’s not perfect. Probably nothing is. But it contains some intriguing ideas that are worthy of discussion. I have been mulling it over for months now, and find it rather interesting.