The Political Economy of Australian Regulatory Reform

Published in the Australian Journal of Public Administration (together with Chris Berg, Aaron M Lane and Patrick A McLaughlin).

Abstract: The problem of regulatory accumulation has increasingly been recognised as a policy problem in its own right. Governments have then devised and implemented regulatory reform policies that directly seek to ameliorate the burdens of regulatory accumulation (e.g. red tape reduction targets). In this paper we examine regulatory reform approaches in Australia through the lens of policy innovation. Our contributions are twofold. We first examine the evolutionary discovery process of regulatory reform policies in Australia (at the federal, intergovernmental, and state levels). This demonstrates a process of policy innovation in regulatory mechanisms and measurements. We then analyse a new measurement of regulatory burden based on text analytics, RegData: Australia. RegData: Australia uses textual analysis to count ‘restrictiveness clauses’ in regulation – such as ‘must’, ‘cannot’ and ‘shall’ – thereby developing a new database (RDAU1.0). We place this ‘restrictiveness clauses’ measurement within the context of regulatory policy innovation, and examine the potential for further innovation in regulatory reform mechanisms.

The Cryptoeconomics of Cities, Data and Space

Published in Cosmos + Taxis (together with Chris Berg, Mikayla Novak, Kiersten Jowett and Jason Potts).

Abstract: We explore the connection between new decentralised data infrastructure and the spatial organisation of cities. Recent advances in digital technologies for data generation, storage and coordination (e.g. blockchain-based supply chains and proof-of-location services) enables more granulated, decentralised and tradeable data about city life. We propose that this new digital infrastructure for information in cities shifts the organisation and planning of city life downwards and opens new opportunities for entrepreneurial discovery. Compared to centralised governance of smart cities, crypto-cities can be understood as more emergent orderings. This paper introduces this research agenda on the boundaries of spatial economics, the economics of cities, information economics, institutional economics and technological change.

From Athens to the Blockchain: Oracles for Digital Democracy

Forthcoming paper in Frontiers in Blockchain (together with Marta Poblet, Oleksii Konashevych, Aaron M. Lane and Carlos A. Diaz Valdivia)

Abstract: Oracles were trusted sources of knowledge for public deliberation in classical Athens. Very much like expert and technical knowledge, divine advice was embedded in the deliberation and decision-making process of the democratic Assembly. While the idea of religious divination is completely out of place in our contemporary democracies, oracles made a technological comeback with modern computer science and cryptography and, more recently, the emergence of the blockchain as a “trust machine”. This paper reviews the role of oracles in Athenian democracy and, stemming from the renewed use of the term in computer sciences and cryptography, analyses the case of oracles in the nascent blockchain ecosystem. The paper also proposes a sociotechnical approach to the use of distributed oracles as informational devices to assist deliberative processes in digital democracy settings, and considers the limits that such an approach may face.

The Governance of Blockchain Dispute Resolution

Published in the Harvard Negotiation Law Review (together with Aaron M Lane and Marta Poblet).

Abstract: Blockchain technology acts as infrastructure for self-executing smart contracts. Because contracts are incomplete and some parties are opportunistic, these new contracting possibilities have created challenges of dispute resolution. For instance, will smart contracts be recognised, and any disputes resolved, within the existing courts of jurisdictions? In this paper we first map some institutional governance possibilities for contracting parties (e.g. mediation, private arbitration, courts) to create a Dispute Resolution Possibility Frontier (DRPF). Second, we provide case studies of emerging blockchain-based mechanisms to solve dispute resolution challenges. Blockchain-based smart contracts might not only create dispute resolution problems, but also act as a technology for entrepreneurs to create new mechanisms to solve dispute problems, including those arising from traditional legal contracts. Contracting parties will subjectively interpret their most effective governance mechanism to resolve disputes, and the costs of dispute resolution will change over time through a process of institutional innovation.

Blockchain Governance: What We Can Learn from the Economics of Corporate Governance

Published in the Journal of the British Blockchain Association (with Chris Berg).

Abstract: Understanding the complexities of blockchain governance is urgent. The aim of this paper is to draw on other theories of governance to provide insight into the design of blockchain governance mechanisms. We define blockchain governance as the processes by which stakeholders (those who are affected by and can affect the network) exercise bargaining power over the network. Major considerations include the definition of stakeholders, how the consensus mechanism distributes endogenous bargaining power between those stakeholders, the interaction of exogenous governance mechanisms and institutional frameworks, and the needs for bootstrapping networks. We propose that on-chain governance models can only be partial because of the existence of implicit contracts that embed expectations of return among diverse stakeholders.

Blockchain and Investment: An Austrian Approach

Forthcoming in the Review of Austrian Economics (with Chris Berg, Sinclair Davidson and Jason Potts). Pre-print available on request.

Abstract: Investment is a function of expected profit, which involves calculation of the cost of trust. Blockchain technology is a new institutional technology (Davidson et al 2018) that industrialises trust (Berg et al 2018). We therefore expect that the adoption of blockchain technology into the economy will affect investment and capital structure. Using a broad Austrian economic approach, we examine how blockchain technology will affect the cost of trust, patterns of investment, and economic institutions.

Blockchain and the Evolution of Institutional Technologies: Implications for Innovation Policy

Forthcoming in Research Policy

Abstract: For the past century economists have proposed a suite of theories relating to industrial dynamics, technological change and innovation. There has been an implication in these models that the institutional environment is stable. However, a new class of institutional technologies — most notably blockchain technology — lower the cost of institutional entrepreneurship along these margins, propelling a process of institutional evolution. This presents a new type of innovation process, applicable to the formation and development of institutions for economic governance and coordination. This paper develops a replicator dynamic model of institutional innovation and proposes some implications of this innovation for innovation policy. Given the influence of public policies on transaction costs and associated institutional choices, it is indicated that policy settings conductive to the adoption and use of blockchain technology would elicit entrepreneurial experiments in institutional forms harnessing new coordinative possibilities in economic exchange. Conceptualisation of blockchain-related public policy an innovation policy in its own right has significant implications for the operation and understanding of open innovation systems in a globalised context.

Governing the Entrepreneurial Discovery of Blockchain Applications

Forthcoming in the Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy

Abstract: This paper examines the institutional context of the entrepreneurial discovery of blockchain applications. It draws on institutional and entrepreneurial theory to introduce the economic problem entrepreneurship in the early stages of new technologies, examines the diversity of self-governed hybrid solutions to coordinating entrepreneurial information, and draws policy implications. To perceive a valuable and actionable market opportunity, entrepreneurs must coordinate distributed non-price information under uncertainty with others. One potential class of transaction cost economising solution to this problem is private self-governance of information coordination within hybrids. This paper explores a diverse range of entrepreneurial hybrids coalescing around blockchain technology, with implications for innovation policy. Defining the innovation problem as either choice-theoretic or contract-theoretic changes the remit of innovation policy. Innovation policy and blockchain policy should extend beyond correcting sub-optimal investments or removing barriers to action, to incorporate how polices impact entrepreneurial choices over governance structures to coordinate information.

International policy coordination for blockchain supply chains

Published in Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies

Abstract: From the adoption of the shipping container to coordinated trade liberalization, reductions in trade costs have propelled modern globalization. In this paper, we analyse the application of blockchain to reduce the trade costs of producing and coordinating trusted information along supply chains. Consumers, producers, and governments increasingly demand information about the quality, characteristics, and provenance of traded goods. Partially due to the risks of error and fraud, this information is costly to produce and to maintain between dispersed parties. Recent efforts have sought to overcome these costs—such as paperless trade agendas—through the application of new technologies. Our focus is on how blockchain technology can form a new decentralized economic infrastructure for supply chains by governing decentralized dynamic ledgers of information about goods as they move. We outline the potential economic consequences of blockchain supply chains before examining policy. Effective adoption faces a range of policy challenges including regulatory recognition and interoperability across jurisdictions. We propose a high‐level policy forum in the Asia‐Pacific region to coordinate issues such as open standards and regulatory compatibility.

Some economic consequences of the GDPR

Published in Economics Bulletin

Abstract: The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a wide ranging personal data protection regime of greater magnitude than any similar regulation previously in the EU, or elsewhere. In this paper, we outline how the GDPR impacts the value of data held by data collectors before proposing some potential unintended consequences. Given the distortions of the GDPR on data value, we propose that new complex financial products—essentially new data insurance markets—will emerge, potentially leading to further systematic risks. Finally we examine how market-driven solutions to the data property rights problems the GDPR seeks to solve—particularly using blockchain technology as economic infrastructure for data rights—might be less distortionary.