The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality

Code of Capital book coverA compelling explanation of how the law shapes the distribution of wealth

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.

Princeton University Press
Barnes & Noble



“Expectations as Property” in UCLA Law Review Discourse

Contributions by:
Alyosha Goldstein, Daniel J. Hulsebosch, Freya Irani, Lise Johnson, Katharina Pistor

UCLA Law Review: Discourse, Vol. 65 (March 2018)
Including Several Papers from the “Expectations as Property” Workshop at Columbia Law School, May 2017.

“This volume is provoked by, and takes as its point of departure, a very particular development in international investment law: arbitral tribunals’ practice of requiring states to compensate investors for interfering with their “legitimate expectations” of particular kinds of treatment or particular income streams. …

“But investor-state arbitration can be seen as only one context, among many, in which the expectations of some humans (and, in fact, some non-humans, such as corporate entities) have been constructed as objects worthy of legal protection.  What, if any, are the relations, the connections, between these different contexts?  And what insights, about the histories and implications of the legal protection of (some) expectations, may be generated by looking, together, at legal fields that are generally considered autonomous, bounded, and distinct?”


New Publication – Theoretical Inquiries in Law: Sovereignty and Property

Contributions by:
Eyal Benvenisti, Jean L. Cohen, Hanoch Dagan & Avihay Dorfman, Sergio Dellavalle, Larissa Katz, Martti Koskenniemi, Thomas W. Merrill, Katharina Pistor, Arthur Ripstein, Joseph William Singer, Laura S. Underkuffler, Jeremy Waldron

Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Vol. 18, Iss. 2 (July 2017):
Sovereignty and Property

This publication compiles the results of a conference on Sovereignty and Property held at Columbia Law School in September of 2015, which brought together an interdisciplinary group of experts on sovereignty, property rights theory, globalization, and political theory to revisit the analogy between property and sovereignty and explore competing frameworks for understanding sovereignty and analyzing the transformation of sovereignty in the age of globalization.

From the Introduction:
“The articles collected in this issue offer an opportunity to rethink the concepts of sovereignty and property and their relation to one another. … The first four articles explore the complex relations between sovereignty and property by conducting conceptual philosophical discussions: they delve into and challenge prevailing perceptions of the relationships between sovereignty and property, and suggest new conceptualizations. The next four articles focus on more specific aspects and implications of the complex relations between sovereignty and property, such as the nature of the right to private property, the communicative role of property, the political processes through which property rights are set, and the use of private property for strengthening public sovereignty. The last four articles tackle sovereignty, property and the relations between them through concrete examples, namely immigration, same-sex marriage, monetary sovereignty, and the sovereignty of the corporate religious. Brought together, the articles in this issue complicate prevailing assumptions on the relations between property and sovereignty, and both offer innovative conceptual frameworks for those relations and address their practical implications.”

The Legal Infrastructure of Securities Markets / April 2017

Markets are complex institutional infrastructures. They may take the form of informal clubs, private or public trading platforms or complex networks of parties and counter parties with or without clearing houses or sophisticated information technology linking market participants to each other. Yet, little attention is paid to how the organization of markets affects outcomes, including the distribution of power and wealth.

On April 10, 2017, Delphine Nougayrède and David Donald presented their recent work on the legal infrastructure of securities markets. Delphine tackled the transparency of ownership in securities markets; David placed the advance of computer, and in particular blockchain technology, into a broader historical perspective of market transformations.

New Publication – Just Financial Markets?

Just Financial Markets?

Oxford University Press, 2017

About Just Financial Markets? Finance in a Just Society

Edited by Lisa Herzog

Chapter 8 “Money’s Legal Hierarchy” by CGLT Director, Katharina Pistor

Well-functioning financial markets are crucial for the economic well-being and the justice of contemporary societies. The Great Financial Crisis has shown that a perspective that naively trusts in the self-regulating powers of free markets cannot capture what is at stake in understanding and regulating financial markets. The damage done by the Great Financial Crisis, including its distributive consequences, raises serious questions about the justice of financial markets as we know them.

This volume brings together leading scholars from political theory, law, and economics in order to explore the relation between justice and financial markets. Broadening the perspective from a purely economic one to a liberal egalitarian one, the volume explores foundational normative questions about how to conceptualize justice in relation to financial markets, the biases in the legal frameworks of financial markets that produce unjust outcomes, and perspectives of justice on specific institutions and practices in contemporary financial markets.

Written in a clear and accessible language, the volume presents analyses of how financial markets (should) function and how the Great Financial Crisis came about, proposals for how the structures of financial markets could be reformed, and analysis of why reform is not happening at the speed that would be desirable from a perspective of justice.

From the Publisher

New Publication – Governing Access to Essential Resources

Columbia University Press, 2015

Contributions by:
Nikhil Anand, Vanessa Casado-Pérez, Manase Kudzai Chiweshe, Michael Cox, Hanoch Dagan, Alain Durand-Lasserve, Michael B. Dwyer, Derek Hall, John Hursh, James Krueger, Laila Macharia, Scott McKenzie, Nilhari Neupane, Eva Pils, Edella Schlager, Vamsi Vakulabharanam

About Governing Access to Essential Resources

Essential resources do more than satisfy people’s needs. They ensure a dignified existence. Since the competition for essential resources, particularly fresh water and arable land, is increasing and standard legal institutions, such as property rights and national border controls, are strangling access to resources for some while delivering prosperity to others, many are searching for ways to ensure their fair distribution.

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.

-> Read Governing Access to Essential Resources online!