In capitalist societies freedom has been defined as the right to amass unlimited wealth. I would like to propose a new definition of freedom. Freedom is the right to have control over one's work. Beneath the rhetoric of freedom is a fundamental disagreement over whether freedom allows a person to get in a position in which one's income and wealth is a function of control over other people or whether one's income and wealth is a product of one's own labor. Those who believe income and wealth should be a product of one's own labor will probably appreciate my new definition of freedom; others will not. The parameters of freedom would be control over the quantity and quality of one's work. For instance, the amount of work, the nature of that work and the timing of that work would be under individual control and not the control of others as in the traditional employer-employee relationship. The more that is the case, the more free one would be. It is assumed that income would be derived from actual work and not from rent, dividends, interest and other financial manipulations.
Inherent in any discussion of work and freedom is the question of what is work worth. Is a CEO's work worth 1000 times what a ditch digger's work is worth? Was Bill McGuire's 1 billion plus takehome pay in 2006 attributable to the fact that his work ethic exceeded that of the average middle class worker by a factor of 10,000. I think not. Then what was it attributable to? Basically to manipulations of the financial system in which money is created by driving up the stock market and then cashing in via stock options. So any discussion of freedom in terms of one's work would presuppose that money earned as a result of financial manipulation and not from actual work would be curtailed. Freedom would be the right of an individual to have control over his or her work, but not the right to amass unlimited wealth due to manipulations of the financial system.
But what about entrepreneurs? Shouldn't they be entitled to make an unlimited amount of money due to their innovations? Just as patents have a limited lifetime, innovators who provide legitimate products and services should be amply rewarded by any economic system, but their rewards should not be unlimited. In a capitalist society rewards are limited in the case of patents, for example, by competition from other manufacturers once the patents expire. Similarly, there should be mechanisms that prevent any enterprise from amassing so much financial power that it can pay CEOs billions of dollars. Entrepreneurship is one thing; CEO pay driven by stock manipulation is quite another. A society has to decide whether it is in the overall society's interest to have a work based society or a finance driven society.
But what if most of the work is done by robots, automatons and computers? How is it possible to have a work based society if not that much human labor is even required? Then it's a question of ownership. Who owns the machines? If private interests own the robots, then consumers will have to pay whatever those interests charge. But where will they get the money to consume if their labor is not required in production; where will they get the money to consume if no jobs are available? They could form co-ops and purchase their own robots which would produce products for their own consumption at lower prices if the market is controlled by monopolistic or oligopolistic corporations. But where will they get the money for the capital investment? This seems like a dead end street for the majority of the world's poor and lower middle class. Private corporations will seek to maximize profits which means that they will promote policies which protect their position in the marketplace and extract the maximum revenue from the collective buyers of their products even if it means that their factories will sit idle because no one has the money to buy their products.
Depressions occur when factories sit idle because consumers don't have the cash to spend. Enlightened producers should seek to insure that consumers have cash to spend on their products. But if there are no jobs due to automation where will this cash come from? It would seem that producers should be willing to be taxed and have the money redistributed through government programs just so consumers would have the money to purchase their products. Henry Ford paid his workers enough so that they could buy his cars. Today cars are produced by robots so that the only way to get money into consumers' hands is by redistribution of some of the profits. That is to say that the culture of work, that a person should have to work and earn their living, needs to come to an end. While many are only too willing and able to work, they are not able to do so if there are no jobs. And the owners of capital receive their income not from their own labor but from the return to capital which they own. Perhaps they did a lot of work at one time to get themselves into a position of ownership, but once there, they derive their income from rent, dividends, interest and manipulations of the financial system such as are embodied in stock options. In other words, for them, it's a culture of income and wealth derived not from work but from ownership. Private ownership should not be sacrosanct and inviolable.
So capitalism inevitably leads to depressions especially if there are technological advancements that result in a situation in which less and less labor is required to produce the products that consumers want and need. Government redistribution would serve to make everyone in the society effectively part owners of every private corporation and would allow everyone to derive at least a part of their income from ownership of assets. This would take place in lieu of government competing with private ownership in producing consumer products although that is at least a distinct logical possibility. When government gets involved in the means of production, then we would have what is called socialism. Government, after all, is the ultimate co-op. But that would be preferable to the situation in which nobody can afford the products produced by private enterprise with the result that there is mass deprivation. One way or another the average person must become an owner of the means of production and derive part of his or her income that way instead of in the traditional way which is either to work or to be an owner.
So one dimension of a new definition of freedom is a reduction in the total amount of work required from each citizen and a corresponding increase in ownership just by virtue of one's citizenship or membership in that society. Another dimension of freedom is control over the parameters of that work including time and amount. Another dimension is ownership either in terms of redistribution or in terms of collective ownership of the means of production with public and private enterprises in competition with each other. When one works and how much one works as well as the rewards from that work should be under the individual worker's control and not under an employer's control. Those who choose to work less should reap fewer rewards, of course, and vice versa. That empowers the worker and the more empowered he or she is, the more free he or she is. This should take place in such a way as to maximize equality in society. Otherwise, the owners of capital assets will be free and all others will be effectively enslaved.