Capital is the defining feature of modern economies, yet most people have no idea where it actually comes from. What is it, exactly, that transforms mere wealth into an asset that automatically creates more wealth? The Code of Capital explains how capital is created behind closed doors in the offices of private attorneys, and why this little-known fact is one of the biggest reasons for the widening wealth gap between the holders of capital and everybody else.
In this revealing book, Katharina Pistor argues that the law selectively “codes” certain assets, endowing them with the capacity to protect and produce private wealth. With the right legal coding, any object, claim, or idea can be turned into capital—and lawyers are the keepers of the code. Pistor describes how they pick and choose among different legal systems and legal devices for the ones that best serve their clients’ needs, and how techniques that were first perfected centuries ago to code landholdings as capital are being used today to code stocks, bonds, ideas, and even expectations—assets that exist only in law.
A powerful new way of thinking about one of the most pernicious problems of our time, The Code of Capital explores the different ways that debt, complex financial products, and other assets are coded to give financial advantage to their holders. This provocative book paints a troubling portrait of the pervasive global nature of the code, the people who shape it, and the governments that enforce it.
This book argues that the division of essential resources ought to be governed by a combination of Voice and Reflexivity. Voice is the ability of social groups to choose the rules by which they are governed. Reflexivity is the opportunity to question one's own preferences in light of competing claims and to accommodate them in a collective learning process. Having investigated the allocation of essential resources in places as varied as Cambodia, China, India, Kenya, Laos, Morocco, Nepal, the arid American West, and peri-urban areas in West Africa, the contributors to this volume largely concur with the viability of this policy and normative framework. Drawing on their expertise in law, environmental studies, anthropology, history, political science, and economics, they weigh the potential of Voice and Reflexivity against such alternatives as pricing mechanisms, property rights, common resource management, political might, or brute force.