A very common argument used to defend a purely capitalistic system, one free from regulations, is to suggest that this provides the means for competition, and competition is needed in order for society to improve itself. Competition provides the incentive for innovation, and without innovation, society would stagnate and we would end up in an ever-worsening condition as we try to hold on to the past which cannot last. Therefore, the best way forward is to promote capitalism, and despite all its defects, capitalism in the long run will lead to better living conditions for everyone. The competitive nature of capitalism proves the truth of capitalism.
There are many things wrong with this line of reasoning.
On the one hand, it is consequentialist. Its justification is one which says the ends justify the means. We want a given end (innovation), and since capitalism provides for that end, all is good. Anyone who has studied basic moral theory can delineate what is wrong with this kind of justification. While we can look into this issue further, we need first to look at a different concern, one which is not always explored when dealing with this topic: equivocation. The problem with this argument is it equivocates way too much. It suggests one end is what is wanted, when a real different end is in reality, what is being sought (money, wealth, pride, not innovation). It hides its real desired end under the guise of a good, and thereby, is dishonest with its real motive and intent.
This argument also suggests that there is only one way competition can exist in society: capitalism. We are being told that without capitalism, there would be no room for competition. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of competition. There are many ways one can compete, many reasons for competition; the reward does not have to be a monetary reward for one to compete – indeed, the equivocation being given (money/innovation) points to this fact – innovation is something which is good, something which we all want, and thus, even without a capitalistic reason, people will have the innate desire to innovate. We have an inherent desire to know, to do good, to create – this is not given to us from capitalism, but rather, it is exploited by capitalism. Indeed, the justification we have for capitalism here shows us that a good can be perverted, and used for a lesser good, leading to all kinds of ill-effects (sin) as a result.
St. Isidore of Seville suggests that the origin of the words for competition in Greek comes from the crowd in which they were had; this suggests that there is, in a way, competition when there is any kind of gathering of people. Thus, when we have a group of people, competition is natural. He delineated a few different kinds of competition:
The types of competitions were: greatness of strength, swiftness in running, skill at archery, endurance in standing still, movement in marching to lyre or pipes, and also competitions over good character, beauty, singing, and further, over skill in land war and naval battle, and contests about withstanding torments. 
As can be seen from this list, competition is often connected to sporting contests. Many people play sports without any monetary gain from it whatsoever. The fun of the game is enough to justify the competition. Victory at the end of the game is also a reward, one which does not have to have any monetary association with it. However, we don’t have to focus on sports to see the value of competition and to see competition doesn’t have to have a monetary goal in order for people to engage it. Competition can be over some noble goal, where people encourage each other and strive to better each other on some positive virtue or in the creation of some positive good. If the competition is to be the best overall person one can be, the competition will transcend monetary rewards – for the one who pursues virtue will counteract the vice of avarice in their life. If one looks to be beautiful, the award is the beauty itself. Competition, indeed, for most people, at most occasions, does not have a monetary element. Only in a society which has given in to the dictates of avarice, which sees everything reduced to a monetary value, does competition imply monetary concerns. The problem with capitalism is this reductionist view of the world – it is not just materialism, for materialism can see many goods in the world without economic concerns; it is the worst kind of economic materialism, and the true good is ignored for the sake of a lesser good. If money is the only good, having it, of course, proves you are good. But this does not prove money should be the only good, and that capitalism provides a means to get its own desired end does not prove capitalism is valid. Now, this is not to say there is no value to money, and everyone needs to be poor; what it means, however, is money is at best a relative good and social and ethical concerns must be had when dealing with it instead of the other way around.
Competition, indeed, can be used to promote real goods and not just monetary ends. For example, competition can encourage religious worship, as long as competition is founded upon the good and not a lesser good for its foundation. Thus, Nicholas of Cusa even suggested positive rivalry where people seek to outdo each other in the pursuit of the good can and will have a positive effect in religion:
Where conformity of mode cannot be had, nations are entitled to their own devotions and ceremonies, provided faith and peace be maintained. Perhaps as a result of a certain diversity devotion will even be increased, since each nation will endeavor with zeal and diligence to make its own rite more splendid, in order that in this respect it may excel some other |nation| and thereby obtain greater merit with God and |greater| praise in the world.
Now, a danger inherent with competition, a danger which must be avoided, is excessive pride. If one is constantly able to be superior to others in the competitions one engages, it is easy to let success get the best of you and lead you astray. Pride always comes before a great fall, and one who ends up praising oneself for the qualities they have, must be weary, less they follow the example of Satan. Humility, even in competition, is necessary for one to attain one’s ultimate desire (eternal happiness). Competition must not be self-serving, but one which seeks the common good, to make sure everyone is built up and no one lags behind: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4 RSV).When competition is seen only in the light of a capitalistic system, competition itself becomes disordered. Those involved with the competition will see little to no reason to combat the sin of pride, since they will find their goal – monetary rewards – is established, and indeed, such pride helps in the self-promotion needed to encourage people to follow you and give you the money you want. Secondly, however, the fact that the love of money being a root of evil, indeed, that the love of money can be said to be the root of all evil, is ignored; capitalism demands adoration of money, which of course, means the dark underbelly of capitalism will be evil, and the greater the adoration of the wealth, the greater the evil which will result.
It should not be surprising that a capitalistic society will be filled with moral rot: competition is for money, not virtue, and those who seek virtue often find themselves suffering the ill effects of the system. And the capitalist will say those who suffer such evil have only to blame themselves: they didn’t see fit to follow the system. In other words, again, the idol demands loyalty, and if you decide not to be loyal to it, it has the right to punish you as it rewards its followers. This is what it means to say those who as suffer have only themselves to blame: the Romans also gave that argument to the Christian martyrs. But now, we have a systematic evil which transcends anything envisioned by the Roman Empire, and it is often so-called Christians who are demanding people render worship to the monetary idol instead of God.
There is room for a free market, but it should not be considered the same thing as capitalism. Capitalism is all about the accumulation of money, of how to get the most. St. Thomas Aquinas attributes two different reasons for trade, with one being commendable and the other blameworthy:
A tradesman is one whose business consists in the exchange of things. According to the Philosopher (Polit. i, 3), exchange of things is twofold; one, natural as it were, and necessary, whereby one commodity is exchanged for another, or money taken in exchange for a commodity, in order to satisfy the needs of life. Such like trading, properly speaking, does not belong to tradesmen, but rather to housekeepers or civil servants who have to provide the household or the state with the necessaries of life. The other kind of exchange is either that of money for money, or of any commodity for money, not on account of the necessities of life, but for profit, and this kind of exchange, properly speaking, regards tradesmen, according to the Philosopher (Polit. i, 3). The former kind of exchange is commendable because it supplies a natural need: but the latter is justly deserving of blame, because, considered in itself, it satisfies the greed for gain, which knows no limit and tends to infinity.
As St. Thomas points out, we do not have to reject trade, what we must do is understand the proper formation for trade. Once it is for the profit motive, it is blameworthy. It leads to vice and a desire which can have no end unless one sees through the desire for profit itself. Free markets are indeed proper and just, however, capitalism with its profit-motive is not, and indeed, its profit motive ultimately hinders the real benefit of the trade system itself. The more one has accumulated wealth, the more they can hinder trade, using the wealth they have to take out rivals through unjust manipulation, leading to a centralization of wealth which hinders the free distribution of goods. Capitalism is, in its essence, against free trade, but like many other goods, it finds a use for free trade and exploits it as long as it can. The goal is the accumulation of riches, and once enough is had, even competition can be – and is – squashed.
Competition is inherent in humanity, and can be used to create much which is good. This is obvious and the reason why it is often praised by those who would like to use it for their own evil ends. We must not turn competition into a goal of itself, as a good without understanding its true and proper use is for the common good. But, as history shows us, especially recent history, competition can be – and is often – manipulated. It can be used to do much evil. When proper ethical goals are not considered, competition becomes a tool for evil – and the goal of such manipulation is to end true competition, to make sure no one can be a true rival to the one who holds the reigns of power. If there is any real risk to them, they will use the power they have gained to rig the system – they will want the illusion of competition and thus promote competition, and use that illusion to suggest the good of the system itself. When we see such happening in a wide scale, as we do now, the system is broke. We must not be trapped by the illusion being promoted. We must transcend it now if we want the restoration of the common good.
 See St. Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies. Trans. Stephen A. Barney, W.J. Lewis, J.A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 366.
 Ibid., 366.
 Nicholas of Cusa,”De Pace Fidei” in Nicholas of Cusa’s De Pace Fidei and Cribratio Alkorani. Trans. Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1994), 70.
 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros. edition, 1947), II-II q77 a4.