Students of socialism, orthodox Marxism, and other flavors of leftism will reject my assertion that socialism is not, in essence, a theory of production. They will point out that Marx, for example, gave detailed accounts of production—how it happens in each historical era, where value comes from, and a host of other economic details. And academic economists from the classical-liberal side—with their detailed knowledge of socialist theories (and how to refute them)—will agree.

At a deeper level of analysis, this is all, of course, correct. But there’s a level of analysis that’s not nearly as deep, but arguably more important. Perhaps not more important to academics, but more important to normal people on a practical, everyday level.

Set aside the twists and turns of ideological history and development. Just look, for a moment, and the basic human motivations that undergird socialism and capitalism. What do we see?

For its part, capitalism is all about production. Production is the phenomenon of individuals using their mind and labor to produce goods and services (almost always in cooperation with other individuals doing the same thing). This phenomenon is the source of all goods and services in the world. Not some of the goods and services. Not half of them. All of them.

The core motivation behind capitalism is simple: Let production happen. Let people do their thing.

Capitalism (or, more precisely, the political philosophy that undergirds it and allows it to flourish) asks, and answers, questions about what human beings need in order to produce—property rights and freedom being chief among them. Of course, free-market economic theory addresses many other issues and specifics, all of which matter. I am not discounting the importance of specifics. But at this level of analysis, everyone gets the main point. Capitalism wants to let people produce. That’s its goal.

The driving force behind socialism is very different. Sweep away all the rhetoric, the theories, and the ink spilled by leftist academics and intellectuals for the last century and a half. Set aside the protestations and diversionary arguments. The meta-purpose of socialism is not to allow, facilitate, or even to understand production. Once upon a time, it sought to seize the means of production. Today, its goal is to control the results of production.

In the end, it’s the same basic motivation. Socialism does not look at production and ask, “How can we help this?” or “How can we do this?” It says . . . how can we take this. That is its starting point. Then it develops a bunch of complex theories and justifications for why they have a “right” to take it.

Leftists can protest until they’re blue in the face, but this does not change the core fact. Each side has a basic starting-point premise. Either your stuff belongs to you or your stuff belongs to the collective. We can stir up all the mud we want, digging ever-deeper into the lake of details, but these premises remain, crystal clear on the surface, for all to see.