Institutional Discovery and Competition in the Evolution of Blockchain Technology

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: Blockchains are an institutional technology for facilitating decentralised exchange. As open-source software, anybody can develop their own blockchain, ‘fork’ an existing blockchain, or stack a new blockchain on top of an existing one – creating a new environment for exchange with its own rules (institutions) and (crypto)currency. Since the creation of Bitcoin in 2008, blockchains have proliferated, each offering iterative institutional variation. Blockchains present a discrete space in which we can observe the process of institutional discovery through competition. This paper looks at the evolution of blockchains as a Hayekian discovery process. The public nature of blockchains – most blockchains offer public transaction – allows us to observe experimentation and competition at an institutional level with a precision previously unavailable compared to other instances of institutional competition.

Available at SSRN.

Blockchain TradeTech

With Darcy Allen, Sinclair Davidson, Mikayla Novak and Jason Potts

Abstract: From the adoption of the shipping container to coordinated trade liberalisation, reductions in trade costs have expanded the potential of global trade and enabled modern globalisation. In this paper we define and explore TradeTech: the entrepreneurial application of technology to economise on the information costs facing global supply chains.  Consumers, producers and governments increasingly demand information about the quality, characteristics and provenance of traded goods. While this information is costly to coordinate between multiple parties, these costs can be economised through new modes of economic organisation. The possible governance forms of supply chains are ultimately constrained by existing technologies. In this paper we introduce and analyse the potential of blockchain technology as a new decentralised economic infrastructure to overcome the information costs of trade. Blockchains may potentially act as a trusted ledger of information pertaining to the characteristics of goods for consumers, firms and governments. Effective adoption of blockchain TradeTech, however, requires high-level international policy coordination—including the development of open standards for information governance—to enable entrepreneurs to discover, build and adopt this new economic infrastructure.

Working paper available at SSRN.

Identity as Input to Exchange

With Alastair Berg, Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: Identity is an integral part of all but the most trivial economic, social and political transactions. Using transaction cost economics, we determine that identity costs are a distinct and measurable subset of transaction costs. In certain transactions, such as credit arrangements, identity costs are incurred at considerable expense for commercial and compliance based reasons. Vertical integration can be seen through the lens of identity cost economising, including in the financial sector, due to high costs of complying with KYC regulations as well as commercial risk management. Such organisational structure is also contingent on available identity technologies. The introduction of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies in identity applications may see new models of institutional structures develop.

Working paper available at SSRN.

Blockchains Evolving: Institutional and Evolutionary Economics Perspectives

With Brendan Markey-Towler, Mikayla Novak, and Jason Potts

Abstract: In this paper we develop a perspective on systems for interaction organised by Blockchains which makes use of evolutionary-institutional and psychological economics to reveal the process of their origination, diffusion and interaction. We discuss Blockchain and its uses as a distributed ledger technology for the establishment of institutional systems governing socioeconomic interaction. We apply the micro-meso-macro perspective to the origination and diffusion of these systems as meso-rules, and formalise the microfoundations of this process of emergence using psychological and institutional economics. We establish that successful Blockchains will be those which continue to adapt their institutional structure to meet evolving capability requirements and provide complementarities. Our perspective offers valuable insights for designers of Blockchain systems and establishes some of the forms of resistance which might constrain their efforts to diffuse Blockchain technology.

Working paper available at SSRN.

Some Economic Consequences of the GDPR

With Darcy Allen, Alastair Berg, and Jason Potts

Abstract: The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a wide ranging personal data protection regime of far greater magnitude than any similar regulation previously in the EU, or elsewhere. In this paper, we explore the ways in which regulation changes the value of data and examine the potential impact of the GDPR on data markets. We suggest that the GDPR may result in unintended consequences analogous to previous government interventions into capital markets and financial services. Novel financial products of unknown complexity and systemic risk – and secondary data derivative markets – may emerge as a result, which suggests that market driven technological solutions, such as those using blockchain or distributed ledger technology, should be further examined.

Working paper available at SSRN.

Blockchain: An Entangled Political Economy Approach

With Darcy Allen and Mikayla Novak.

Abstract: This paper incorporates blockchain activities into the broader remit of entangled political economy theory, emphasising economic and other social phenomena as the emergent by-product of human interactions. Blockchains are a digital technology combining peer-to-peer network computing and cryptography to create an immutable decentralised public ledger. The blockchain contrasts vintage ledger technologies, either paper-based or maintained by in-house databases, largely reliant upon hierarchical, third-party trust mechanisms for their maintenance and security. Recent contributions to the blockchain studies literature suggest that the blockchain itself poses as an institutional technology that could challenge existing forms of coordination and governance organised on the basis of vintage ledgers. This proposition has significant implications for the relevance of existing entangled relationships in the economic, social and political domains. Blockchain enables non-territorial “crypto-secession” not only reducing the costs associated with maintaining ledgers, but radically revising and deconcentrating data-conditioned networks to fundamentally challenge the economic positions of legacy firms and governments. These insights are further illuminated with reference to finance, property and identity cases. Entangled political economy provides a compelling lens through which we can discern the impact of blockchain technology on some of our most important relationships.

Working paper available at SSRN.

Beyond Money: Cryptocurrencies, Machine-Mediated Transactions and High Frequency Bartering

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts.

Abstract: As blockchain technology is adopted into modern economies, the underlying institutional protocols will evolve. In this paper we set out the reasoning behind how this will likely take us to an economy beyond both money and money prices. Money facilitates human-human exchange in the presence of cognitive limitations. However in the near future personal artificially intelligent machine agents will be able to conduct exchanges with a matrix of liquid digital assets (such as cryptocurrencies). We call this process high frequency bartering. The existence of markets without money present complex public policy challenges around privacy and taxation.

Working paper available on SSRN

Ledgers

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: This paper develops the ledger-centric view of the economy. Ledgers provide an underlying infrastructure for exchange by allowing actors to prove, validate, and verify property ownership. In this sense ledgers map economic, political and social relationships. This paper provides some theoretical distinctions to frame the analysis of the economics of ledgers. First we offer a philosophical and institutional definition of ledgers. Second we provide three analytic categories of ledgers (general, actual, and perfect). Third we offer a ledger theory of the firm as a map of relationship between labour, capital, production processes, and information, and emphasise the economic significance of ledgerisation in the history of entrepreneurial firm creation. Fourth we draw some implications of our theory for the development of complex economies. This paper is based on the theory of institutional cryptoeconomics which was developed to understand the economic implications of distributed ledger technologies.

Working paper available on SSRN

A Genuine Commercial Justification for Interchange Fees

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: Ronald Coase famously argued that “if an economist finds something – a business practice of one sort or other – that he does not understand, he looks for a monopoly explanation”. So it is with credit card interchange fees. Intellectual confusion has led to the phenomenon of interchange fees being misdiagnosed as being a monopoly problem leading to inappropriate policy intervention. Following George Stigler’s path breaking analysis of the US Security and Exchange Commission he claimed that financial regulation was “founded upon prejudice and … reforms are directed by wishfulness”. In our opinion, Australian regulatory attitudes towards interchange fees should be placed into the same category: reforms initiated by ignorance and anti-bank prejudice.

Working paper available on SSRN

Some public economics of blockchain technology

With Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts

Abstract: Distributed ledger technology emerged in 2009 as the protocol behind bitcoin, a cryptocurrency with origins in the ‘cypherpunk’ community who sought to use cryptography to secede from government control of money. Bitcoin’s pseudonymous inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto said Bitcoin would be “very attractive to the libertarian viewpoint” and many in the crypto-anarchist community saw, and still see, cryptocurrencies as a means to free citizens from the monetary depredations of governments. But from these revolutionary secessionist origins, it has become apparent that not only are there many possible use cases of distributed ledger technology for government, but that government action through both regulation, legislation, and public investment might be a key factor in the adoption and development of this technological innovation. Governments can use blockchain technology to exploit the service efficiencies they may bring. But also, and perhaps counter-intuitively given their revolutionary origins, blockchain applications are likely to need government cooperation to facilitate adoption and the development of the blockchain economic system.

Working paper available at SSRN.