Against the Day Weblog

November 28, 2006

Chemistry and Capitalism

Filed under: Notes — basileios @ 10:34 am

The link between Chemistry and Capitalism that Webb Traverse talks about in page 79 is very much a real thing. The change from alchemy to chemistry a century or so earlier happened under the auspices of the European governments as a means of securing commerce and taxation. Analytical chemistry was used for example for measuring the percentage of alcohool in alcoholic drinks and imposing taxes that were proportional to the amount of alcohol in the drink (so spirits were taxed more than beer). Purifying substances were also used for commerce purposes and for measuring the concentration of metals in alloys – essential for keeping trade in order and for cross-border trade.

It was no accident that Lavoisier the ‘founder of modern chemistry’ was executed during the French revolution as a hated tax officer (although the arguments he had with Marat probably didn’t help.)

I am actually very impressed by this Chemistry-Capitalism link mentioned by Pynchon, which I always thought that wasn’t really well known.


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