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Just How Historically Low Are Interest Rates?

Just How Historically Low Are Interest Rates?

Ron Kelemen - Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We read and hear everywhere that today’s interest rates are at historic lows.  Well, just how historically low are they?  Not only are they the lowest in our nation’s history, but, according to Bank of England economist Andy Haldane, they are the lowest in 5,000 years.  Yes, you read that right, 5,000 years.  Haldane's list of sources for this is pretty staggering (you can look through them all here).

Meanwhile, here are just a few highlights:
  • Mesopotamia, c 3000 BC: 20%
  • Babylon, Code of Hammurabi, 1772 BC: codified earlier Sumerian custom of 20%.
  • Persian conquest (King Cyrus takes Babylon), 539 BC: rates of 40+%.
  • Greece, Temple at Delos, c. 500 BC: 10%
  • Rome, Twelve Tables, 443 BC: 8.33%
  • Athens/Rome: circa the first two Punic Wars, 300-200 BC: 8%
  • Rome: 1 AD: 4%
  • Rome, under Diocletian, 300 AD: 15% (estimated)
  • Byzantine Empire, under Constantine, 325 AD: limit 12.5%
  • Byzantine Empire, Code of Justinian, 528 AD: limit 8%
  • Italian cities, c. 1150: 20%
  • Venice, 1430s: 20%
  • Venice, (Leonardo da Vinci paints "The Last Supper in Milan), 1490s: 6.25%
  • Holland, beginning of the Eighty Years' War, 1570s: 8.13%
  • England, 1700s: 9.92%
  • US, West Florida annexed by the US, 1810s: 7.64%
  • US, circa World War II, 1940s: 1.85%
  • US, Reagan administration, 1980s: 15.84%
  • US, Fed does not hike rates in September, 2015: 0-0.25%
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