The UK should "celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country", Business Secretary John Hutton has said.
There should be no cap on success, Mr Hutton says
In a speech he argued that "more millionaires" are needed, calling freedom to get rich "a good thing".
The goal that "no-one should be left behind" should not mean no-one can get ahead, he said.
But the Tories called the comments a "weak attempt" to appeal to an "exasperated business community".
Mr Hutton's Progress lecture came on the eve of the Budget and as ministers announced plans for an "enterprise academy".
It was seen as an attempt to woo business leaders, whose support is increasingly being fought over by Labour and the Conservatives.
Firms are putting pressure on the government to reduce the rate of corporation tax and simplify the system.
But trade unions argue that this would shift the taxation burden from the "super-rich" to ordinary earners.
Mr Hutton, who was close to former prime minister Tony Blair, stressed that there would be no return to any Labour sense of hostility towards business under Gordon Brown.
He said: "The real architects of New Labour - Tony, Gordon and Peter [Mandelson - the EU's trade commissioner] - always knew that recognising the contribution that business makes to Britain was more than just tactical.
"We were making a more fundamental shift - to recognise that aspiration and ambition are natural human emotions - not the perverted side-effect of primitive capitalism."
Defeating poverty will rely on allowing people to "be the authors of their own lives", Mr Hutton added.
"It is statistically possible to have a society where no child lives in a family whose income is below the poverty line - 60% of median average income - but where there are also people at the top who are very wealthy.
"In fact, not only is it statistically possible - it is positively a good thing.
"So rather than questioning whether high salaries are morally justified, we should celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country.
"Rather than placing a cap on that success, we should be questioning why it is not available to more people.
"We want more millionaires in Britain not less. Our overarching goal that no-one should get left behind must not become translated into a stultifying sense that no-one should be allowed to get ahead."
For the Conservatives, shadow business secretary Alan Duncan said: "This is a weak attempt by Labour to soothe an increasingly exasperated business community.
"John Hutton waxes lyrical about his 'instincts' for aspiration and wealth-creation, but the irony is that over the last nine months his government has gone to great lengths to stifle British enterprise."
Mr Hutton joined Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling earlier on Tuesday to announce plans for a National Enterprise Academy, which will offer a qualification in enterprise to 16 to 19-year-olds.
The government is contributing up to half of the £8m needed, with the rest coming from entrepreneur and Dragon's Den star Peter Jones's charitable foundation and other sources.
The academy, in south-east England, will accept its first full intake of students in autumn 2009. A second is to be set up in the North West.
The academies will provide support and training for entrepreneurs and encourage enterprise awareness, particularly among women.
Mr Hutton said: "I want the UK to be the most enterprising economy in the world - and to achieve that we must unlock this country's talent."