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absence of market prices, nominal rate alone is considered an adequate indication of prevailing rates only if the securities were newly and successfully sold at approximately face value. Nominal rates that do not reflect voluntary contracts, such as the rates on forced loans and forced conversions are so labeled and are not carried down to the summaries of prevailing rates. This history does not attempt to go more deeply into the many mathematical concepts of interest and yield than do its sources. Simple interest at annual rates is the form that is attempted throughout, but it is not always precisely achieved. Rates of discount, for example, are quoted from time to time as interest rates, and these provide a higher simple interest than the rate of discount. The sources do not always distinguish. Where a discount is known as such, it is pointed out. Most ancient rates, like modern small-loan rates, were quoted by the month, and these are simply multiplied by twelve without compounding, and without allowing for variations in the calendar, to give an annual rate. Other attributes, such as size, redemption features, legality, and tax status, are reported, when available, to the extent that they may affect the record of the trend and level of interest rates. CONTINUITY AND ACCURACY The economist eager to discover or to support a theory of the causes or effects of interest rates may object to the inclusion in one volume of such unlike rates of interest as the legal interest limits of Babylon and Rome and the modern treasury bill rates of New York and London. For purposes of interest rate theory, the economist will rightly seek to compare only like with like, and might ask that the data, both modern and ancient, be winnowed so that only those rates are presented for all ages that were charged for loans of uniform quality, form, and maturity. No such comparable data exist or could exist over the ages. This fact may explain why economists have shied away from compiling universal histories of interest rates. Valid interest-rate trends can at times be discerned over periods of as much as several centuries where reasonable (but never perfect) comparability has prevailed. We shall find comparable rates tending to decline in many areas at specific periods of history and tending to increase at others. Economic historians have called attention to these long-term trends in interest rates and their findings are summarized here. Great caution, however, should be used in comparing the modern interest rates quoted here with their early ancestors, which are also quoted here. The social and economic environments were very different. Customs, taxes, currencies, and laws all differed. These changes might seem to disqualify all comparisons over the centuries. And yet our present money market did not spring fully grown from the brow of Senator
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Carter Glass, the legislative father of the Federal Reserve System. It grew to its modern form over the centuries. Its birth is lost in antiquity. Those who are reluctant to make any comparison at all of rates centuries ago with rates today should, to be consistent, refuse to compare the rates of 2005 with rates twenty or forty years earlier. The economic environment surrounding the U.S. Treasury bill rate in 2005 was very different from that surrounding the U.S. Treasury bill rate in 1945, and this again was very different from that of the 1960 s. Basic changes have taken place in a few years time in the structure of the money market that sets the interest rate. In some respects, there was more difference between 1945 and 2005 in the environment influencing New York interest rates than there was between London in 1755 and New York in 1945. We should not refuse to compare effects because causes have changed. There is more continuity over the centuries in interest rates than there is in most prices. This is because the interest rate is a ratio of like to like. Like rates produce the same mathematical result in any era, in any currency, and at any given price structure. Compound interest at x% net will double principal in exactly the same number of years today as in the days of Socrates, and the net purchasing power of x% interest will be increased or reduced by changes in the value of money or burden of taxes in the same proportion. Because it is such a mathematical ratio, the rate of interest is one of our closest statistical links with our economic past. This book will therefore provide a comparison of rates of interest over the ages in spite of the very unlike credit forms and economic environments. It will, however, summarize the changes in credit forms and in economic environment. It is not the purpose of this book to analyze the causes of interest-rate levels and trends. There is a vast literature on this subject but little area of agreement. Some interest-rate theories will be mentioned, but none will be sponsored. Patterns of change coinciding with external political or economic events, such as wars and inflations, will be noted, and from these the reader is free to infer cause and effect. It is not the purpose of this history, however, to support or enforce such inferences. For ancient and medieval times, this book is as inclusive as the scanty data permit. No one who has not diligently sought out ancient and medieval interest rates can appreciate how scarce they are. Contemporaries did not proclaim and rarely recorded the rates of interest they charged. Often interest was illegal or considered sinful, and at other times legal limits encouraged secrecy. In the literature of ancient and medieval economic history, few actual interest rates are mentioned. Most historians ignore the subject or treat it in very general terms. Furthermore, economic historians inevitably differ on the reliability of the sources. Old data are constantly being amended or refuted by new. There is a splendid opportunity for more original research on ancient,
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