Michael Sandel, in Democracy's Discontent, reviews the argument among the Founding Fathers over political economy. The New Englanders wanted to develop American manufacturing and merchant capacity. The Virginians wanted farmers, and feared cities. Both thought that free, democratic citizens needed to stand on their own feet economically.
Both classes of Founders were imagining the owners of these enterprises as the true citizens. The irony is that factories and stores depend on employees, and the farms that the Virginians actually ran depended on slaves, as well as employed farm hands. Employees were not seen as truly free; they were like slaves because they depended on another to live.
When slavery was abolished, and the great mass of Americans became employees, this eighteenth century argument became totally outdated. Yet we have not really resolved the question of what economic assets you need to be a free participating citizen.
Instead, Sandel usefully points out, we have redefined freedom from participating in government to choosing how to live. In other words, we have re-imagined freedom from a kind of production to a kind of consumption.