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The Code of Capital

How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality
Narrated by: Laural Merlington
Length: 11 hrs and 23 mins
Categories: Nonfiction, Economics
4 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2019 Katharina Pistor (P)2019 Tantor

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 10-11-19

Capital's cream rises, and here's just how it does

This is a book of just a sort and focus I've long been waiting for. It gets right to the crux of the nuts and bolts of wealth and power, the maps and charters, if you will, lifting these layers to a deep level which digs beyond the PR mythos and justifications offered by the rich and powerful, for their station in life. I might not be perfectly politically in sync with (where I think) this author is, but for me, having lived at the crossroads of law and business and the intellectual and philosophical examination of same (now finally as a professor), her chosen focus is right where mine is. The roots of power and control can be obscured by various opaque concepts and documents, and it is all laid bare here, concept by concept, piece by piece. I appreciate her digging through some history and delivering some takes I hadn't seen or imagined yet. We must travel back some to see what congealed into our present system. The author explores the different paths and ways of life that were shunted aside, along the way, whose ideas might yet be useful for us, in the search for a future political economy, land use, and planetary footprint that is survivable and good.
Some other books here which touch on similar themes, but from different angles, include Property by Raymond Frey (going back into great thinkers on property's underlying concepts), and White Shoe, by Jon Oller (on the elite lawyer-history side). I found both of those excellent in their own ways, and reviewed them here.

Once this book gets past the basics, about an hour or so in, so;me things show up I appreciate, I have not seen much of elsewhere (in audio),for example:
- A neat map of the financial and corporate structure of latter-day Lehman Brothers, and a sketch of some of its post-bankruptcy experiences (especially rare in the literature). This is a shell game and sleight-of-hand at its best!
- A deeper dive into the parts and operators of a pretty typical collateralized mortgage structure, pre-2008, and its place in mortgage finance (going beyond the simplicities that popular books have stuck with), and
- A journey back into the origins of financial instruments, since about the 1450s, and the evolution of innovations in that area. From that, the listener can follow the bread crumbs right to where we are.
These are relatively unusual things to find at a good price in any form. Each, for me, is worth the price of admission here.