Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

 McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer Street

Columbia Law School Professor Katharina Pistor will join us to discuss her new book "The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality". 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.

Meet the Author
Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance

Katharina Pistor is the Edwin B. Parker Professor of Comparative Law at Columbia Law School and Director of the Law School’s Center on Global Legal Transformation. 

Her research and teaching spans corporate law, corporate governance, money and finance, property rights, and comparative law and legal institutions. She has published widely in legal and social science journals. Her most recent book is “The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality” (Princeton University Press, 2019).

In 2012 she was co-recipient (with Martin Hellwig) of the Max Planck Research Award on International Financial Regulation; in 2014 she received the Allen & Overy Prize for the best working paper on law of the European Corporation Governance Institute; and in 2015 she was elected member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. She is also the recipient of research grants by the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the National Science Foundation.

Pistor received her law degree from Freiburg University in 1988 and qualified for legal practice in 1992 after clerking for the Hamburg Court of Appeals. She obtained a Masters in Law from the University of London in 1989; a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government in 1994; and a Doctorate in Law from the University of Munich in 1998. Prior to joining Columbia Law School, Pistor has held academic positions at the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University), and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Law in Hamburg. She has held visiting positions at several universities, including University of Pennsylvania Law School, New York University Law School, Frankfurt University, London School of Economics, Oxford University, and Harvard Law School.