Man cannot create material things. In the mental and moral world indeed he may produce new ideas; but when he is said to produce material things, he really only produces utilities; or in other words, his efforts and sacrifices result in changing the form or arrangement of matter to adapt it better for the satisfaction of wants. All that he can do in the physical world is either to readjust matter so as to make it more useful, as when he makes a log of wood into a table; or to put it in the way of being made more useful by nature, as when he puts seed where the forces of nature will make it burst out into life.
It is sometimes said that traders do not produce: that while the cabinet-maker produces furniture, the furniture-dealer merely sells what is already produced. But there is no scientific foundation for this distinction. They both produce utilities, and neither of them can do more: the furniture-dealer moves and rearranges matter so as to make it more serviceable than it was before, and the carpenter does nothing more. The sailor or the railway-man who carries coal above ground produces it, just as much as the miner who carries it underground; the dealer in fish helps to move on fish from where it is of comparatively little use to where it is of greater use, and the fisherman does no more.
- Principles of Economics, by Alfred Marshall (public domain)
The full text is available here.
(cross-posted at freedom is love -- crazy new blog idea?)