Nearly four thousand years ago, King Hammurabi of Babylon laid out his eponymous “Hammurabi’s Code”, a series of laws that is still famous to this day.
Most people know Hammurabi’s Code as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Yet what few realize is that the code was actually one of the original attempts at government wage and price controls.
Hammurabi’s Code decreed, for example, that the daily rate of pay for a tailor would be five grains of silver, and a farm laborer would be six grains of silver. The cost of hiring a small animal for field work would be four bushels of corn. Etc.
Of course, Hammurabi’s attempts to control prices didn’t work one bit. In his book The Old Babylonian Merchant: His Business and Social Position (published 1950), historian W.F. Leemans writes:
“Prominent and wealthy tamkaru [merchant traders] were no longer found in Hammurabi’s reign. Moreover, only a few tamkaru are known from Hammurabi’s time and afterwards . . .”