Although geographically small, the harbor looms large over the village of Portpatrick on Scotland’s rugged west coast. Once a thriving port, the rail line closed, the ferry moved elsewhere, and fisherman quit coming as much as they used to. After years of outside ownership, locals formed a trust to transfer ownership of the harbor back to the community. Then the real trouble began.

For Harper’s, Samanth Subramanian narrates the village’s struggle to save its harbor and identity through a once-obscure ownership model called “community shares.” Portpatrick’s is a story about the pitfalls of capitalism and the benefits of doing what’s best for your town’s quality of life, rather than for a few peoples’ bank accounts.

In the United Kingdom, the law enabling bencoms to issue withdrawable shares is more than a century old, but it was only in the 1990s that it was rediscovered, and only in the…

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