What is it that distinguishes capitalism? It is not primarily the existence of profit or trade or private property. It is, as Michael Novak states in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, its pluralism and cooperation. In socialist or traditional societies, authorities decide what is good and worth doing; they impose a unitary vision of the good. Intentionally, capitalism allows the individual to choose his goals and enter into voluntary association with others.

What is most baffling of our president’s assertion on entrepreneurs is not his assertion that “[they] did not build that…” but the idea that entrepreneurs think they are “so smart” and need no one else! The practical wisdom of the entrepreneur impedes such viewpoint. They know well that in the pursuit of their self-interest, they need the help of other people. Their “smarts” is practical and as such engaging.
The last people who need a lecture on social cooperation from any politician are those engaged in business.

Because capitalism is pluralistic, it refrains from imposing one vision of the good. Thus, if anything is to be done the values, opinions, habits, needs and wants of many must be considered in economic activity. Citing Novak again, in capitalism, “Individuals are instructed thereby that the common good transcends their own vision of the good, however passionately held.”

But statists assume that only the state has the capacity to wholly perceive and advance the common good. They assume that only the state can coordinate the free association of individuals pursuing their interests. Instead of seeing the humble place of the state within the systemic organism we call society, they perceive an expansive place for government to decide what is best for all, ergo, we owe government even the fruit of our invention and labor.

In the end, there is a daunting philosophical difference here from those who see the place of the individual as inviolable and central and those who see men as cogs in a machine.