The exchange theory of web3 governance (or ‘blockchains without romance’)

Working paper with Jason Potts, Darcy W E Allen, Aaron M. Lane and Trent MacDonald. Available on SSRN

Abstract: Blockchains have enabled innovation in distributed economic institutions, such as money (e.g. cryptocurrencies) and markets (e.g. DEXs), but also innovations in distributed governance, such as DAOs, and new forms of collective choice. Yet we still lack a general theory of blockchain governance. James Buchanan once described public choice theory as ‘politics without romance’ and argued instead for an exchange theory of politics. Following Buchanan, we argue here for an exchange view of blockchain governance. The ‘romantic’ view of blockchain governance is collective choice and consensus through community voting. The exchange view, instead, is focused on entrepreneurial discovery of opportunities for value creation in governance space through innovation in protocols (e.g. Curve, Convex, Lido, Metagov, etc) that facilitate exchange of coordination and voting rights, that are newly made possible through tools that enable pseudonymous, composable and permissionless governance actions. The exchange lens on web3 governance also helps illuminate how this emergent polycentric process can generate robustness in decentralised systems.

Interoperability as a critical design choice for central bank digital currencies

Working paper available at SSRN

Abstract: Interoperability is a key economic and technical consideration for payment systems. This paper explores the implications of interoperability for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). CBDCs are digital representations of central bank money. A critical question is how those digital representations can interoperate with other CBDCs, private blockchains, and permissioned blockchains. By comparing prevailing CBDC interoperability models with interoperability in blockchain ecosystems, the paper finds that CBDC architectural choices are deeply intertwined with policy choices in a way not yet understood by the scholarly and policy literature. Widely discussed CBDC policy questions (such as whether a CBDC should be retail or wholesale, whether interest should be paid on CBDC holdings, and how privacy should be protected) are better understood as choices around interoperability. The paper concludes by connecting the CBDC policy debate to a parallel debate about fiat-backed stablecoin architecture and governance.

Repugnant innovation

With Darcy WE Allen and Sinclair Davidson. Available at SSRN

Abstract: Repugnant innovation is a form of evasive entrepreneurship that occurs in repugnant markets. Repugnance is an informal institution – controlled by long-lived norms, attitudes, customs and traditions – and repugnant innovation acts to shift institutions at the lowest level of the institutional stack. The paper considers three examples of repugnant innovation: e-cigarettes, online gambling, and webcam modelling. Each repugnant innovation challenges the complex mixture of material and moral concerns that contributes to repugnance in their respective markets. The paper adds to and expands on a body of evidence about innovation in apparently unsupportive institutional environments.

Trust and Governance in Collective Blockchain Treasuries

With Darcy WE Allen and Aaron M Lane. Available at SSRN

Abstract: Blockchain treasuries are pools of digital assets earmarked for funding goods and services within a blockchain ecosystem that have some public purpose, such as protocol upgrades. Ecosystem participants face a trust problem in ensuring that the treasury is robust to opportunism, such as theft or misappropriation. Treasury governance tools, such as expert committees or stakeholder voting, can bolster trust in treasury functions. In this paper we use new comparative economics to examine how treasury governance mechanisms minimise different types of costs, thereby bolstering trust. We interpret case studies of innovative treasury governance within this framework, finding that the costs shift throughout the lifecycle of an ecosystem, and those subjective costs are revealed through crisis. These changes lead ecosystem participants to choose and innovate on treasury governance.

Setting the reserve price for the Tracer DAO Gnosis auction

With Peyman Khezr

Introduction: Selling multiple units of a homogeneous good in an auction is one way of determining the market price. Uniform-price auctions have been used in many real-world markets because of their price discovery property: All winning bidders pay the same price (either highest losing bid or lowest winning bid). The question is how a seller could compute an optimal reserve price in a uniform price auction. First we should note that literature suggests a positive reserve price is usually better than no reserve price as it reduces the chance of underbidding by bidders. However, to compute the reserve price for a uniform price auction there are no clear criteria. In this note we follow the criteria given for the second-price auction as the best approximate of the uniform-price auction.

PDF available here

An economic theory of blockchain foundations

With Jason Potts, Darcy WE Allen, Sinclair Davidson and Trent MacDonald

Abstract: Blockchain (or crypto) foundations are nonprofit organizations that supply public goods to a crypto-economy. The standard theory of crypto foundations is that they are like governments with respect to a national or regional economy, i.e. raising a public treasury and allocating resources to blockchain specific capital works, education, R&D, etc., to benefit the community and develop the ecosystem. We propose an alternative theory of what foundations do, namely that the treasury they manage is a moat to raise the cost of exit or forking because the benefit of the fund is only available to those who stay with the chain. Furthermore, building and maintaining a large treasury is a costly signal that only a high quality chain could afford to do (Spence 1973). We review these two models of the economic function of a blockchain foundation – (1) as a private government supplying local public goods, and (2) as a moat to raise the opportunity costs of exit. We outline the empirical predictions each theory makes, and examine the implications for optimal foundation design. We conclude that foundations should be funded by a pre-mine of tokens, and work best when large, visible, transparent, rigorously managed, and with a low burn rate.

Available at SSRN.

Rentseeking in blockchain governance: the awkward transition from market decisionmaking to non-market decisionmaking

Abstract: Blockchains and applications built on blockchains are decentralised ecosystems that are nonetheless built by centralised firms. The typical launch and maturity of a blockchain ecosystem involves the transition from an entrepreneurial institutional arrangement characterised by market decisionmaking to a decentralised one characterised by non-market decisionmaking. This paper considers how to assess rentseeking in the context of blockchain governance. Rentseeking in blockchain implementations and ecosystems occurs when participants seek rewards or privileges in excess what would be considered a market contribution after a certain threshold of decentralisation. The paper considering two controversies in blockchain governance – the Zcash founders’ reward and the SushiSwap developer fund – which involved the intertwining of mechanisms to fund public goods with mechanisms to compensate founders for their entrepreneurial effort. The paper finds that the normative ideal of decentralisation in blockchain governance has a parallel function to the normative ideal of liberal governance in political systems.

Available at SSRN.

Quantum crypto-economics: Blockchain prediction markets for the evolution of quantum technology

With Peter P. Rohde, Vijay Mohan, Sinclair Davidson, Darcy Allen, Gavin K. Brennen, and Jason Potts

Abstract: Two of the most important technological advancements currently underway are the advent of quantum technologies, and the transitioning of global financial systems towards cryptographic assets, notably blockchain-based cryptocurrencies and smart contracts. There is, however, an important interplay between the two, given that, in due course, quantum technology will have the ability to directly compromise the cryptographic foundations of blockchain. We explore this complex interplay by building financial models for quantum failure in various scenarios, including pricing quantum risk premiums. We call this quantum crypto-economics.

Available at arXiv

Commitment voting: a mechanism for intensity of preference revelation and long-term commitment in blockchain governance

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: Commitment voting is a mechanism for signalling intensity of preferences and long-term commitment to governance decisions in proof of stake blockchains. In commitment voting, the voting weight of a vote in any given election is determined by 1) the amount of tokens under a voters control and 2) the time that the voter is willing to lock their tokens up for that election. Winning votes are locked up for the nominated amount of time. Losing votes are released as soon as the election has results. Commitment voting requires voters to commit to the decisions they make while still allowing those who disagree with the majority to exit the community.

Available at SSRN and in PDF here.

The Hart asset at the heart of your organisation

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: What assets does a firm need to hold to develop a profitable business model? A ‘Hart asset’ is an asset that a firm cannot strategically afford a rival firm to own or control due to the risk of hold up, and therefore must be held within the firm, and upon which a profitable business model can be built. We tie the Hart asset to the problem of complementarities in profitable innovation, and conclude with an example Hart asset in digital platforms.

Available in PDF and at SSRN