Blockchain and supply chains: V-form organisations, value redistributions, de-commoditisation and quality proxies

Published in The Journal of the British Blockchain Association

Abstract: We apply institutional cryptoeconomics to the information problems in global trade, model the incentives under which blockchain-based supply chain infrastructure will be built, and make predictions about the future of supply chains. We argue blockchain will change the patterns and dynamics of how, where and what we trade by: (1) facilitating new forms of economic organisation governing supply chain coordination (such as the V-form organisation); (2) decreasing information asymmetries and shifting economic power towards the ends of supply chains (e.g. primary producers); (3) changing the dimensions along which we can reliably differentiate goods and therefore de-commoditising goods and disaggregating price signals; and (4) decreasing consumer reliance on quality proxies (e.g. production within national borders).

Blockchain: An entangled political economy approach

Published in the Journal of Public Finance and Public Choice 

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.

Cryptodemocracy and its institutional possibilities

Forthcoming in the Review of Austrian Economics

Abstract: Democracy is an economic problem of choice constrained by transaction costs and information costs. Society must choose between competing institutional frameworks for the conduct of voting and elections. These decisions over the structure of democracy are constrained by the technologies and institutions available. As a governance technology, blockchain reduces the costs of coordinating information and preferences between dispersed people. Blockchain could be applied to the voting and electoral process to form new institutional possibilities in a cryptodemocracy. This paper analyses the potential of a cryptodemocracy using institutional cryptoeconomics and the Institutional Possibility Frontier (IPF). The central claim is that blockchain lowers the social costs of disorder in the democratic process, mainly by incorporating information about preferences through new structures of democratic decision making. We examine one potential new form of democratic institution, quadratic voting, as an example of a new institutional possibility facilitated by blockchain technology.

Subjective political economy

Published in New Perspectives on Political Economy

Abstract: We extend the Institutional Possibility Frontier (IPF) — a theoretical framework depicting the institutional trade-offs between the dual costs of dictatorship and disorder (Djankov et al. 2003) — by incorporating the notion of subjective costs. The costs of institutional choice are not objectively determined or chosen by society; they are subjective to the political actor that perceives them. Our methodologically individualist approach provides a new, highly adaptable extension of the IPF enabling examination of the political bargaining process between dispersed actors, the bounds and evolution of institutional innovation and discovery, and follower-leader dynamics in long-run institutional changes. Our new Subjective Institutional Possibility Frontier (SIPF) helps to integrate ideas into the economics of political systems, creating the foundations for a more subjective political economy.

How innovation commons contribute to discovering and developing of new technologies

Published in the International Journal of the Commons

Abstract: In modern economics, the institutions surrounding the creation and development of new technologies are firms, markets and governments. We propose an alternative theory that locates the institutional origin of new technologies further back in the commons when self-organizing groups of technology enthusiasts develop effective governance rules to pool distributed information resources. The ‘innovation commons’ alleviates uncertainty around a nascent technology by pooling distributed information about uses, costs, problems and opportunities. While innovation commons are mostly temporary, because the resource itself – the information about opportunities – is only temporarily valuable, they are a further addition to the Pantheon of commons, and suggest that the institutions of the commons – and the common pool resource of information about applications of the technology – may be far more important in the study of innovation than previously thought.

Cultures of sharing in 3D printing: what can we learn from the licence choices of Thingiverse users?

Published in the Journal of Peer Production

Abstract: This article contributes to the discussion by analysing how users of the leading online 3D printing design repository Thingiverse manage their intellectual property (IP). 3D printing represents a fruitful case study for exploring the relationship between IP norms and practitioner culture. Although additive manufacturing technology has existed for decades, 3D printing is on the cusp of a breakout into the technological mainstream – hardware prices are falling; designs are circulating widely; consumer-friendly platforms are multiplying; and technological literacy is rising. Analysing metadata from more than 68,000 Thingiverse design files collected from the site, we examine the licensing choices made by users and explore the way this shapes the sharing practices of the site’s users. We also consider how these choices and practices connect with wider attitudes towards sharing and intellectual property in 3D printing communities. A particular focus of the article is how Thingiverse structures its regulatory framework to avoid IP liability, and the extent to which this may have a bearing on users’ conduct. The paper has three sections. First, we will offer a description of Thingiverse and how it operates in the 3D printing ecosystem, noting the legal issues that have arisen regarding Thingiverse’s Terms of Use and its allocation of intellectual property rights. Different types of Thingiverse licences will be detailed and explained. Second, the empirical metadata we have collected from Thingiverse will be presented, including the methods used to obtain this information. Third, we will present findings from this data on licence choice and the public availability of user designs. Fourth, we will look at the implications of these findings and our conclusions regarding the particular kind of sharing ethic that is present in Thingiverse; we also consider the “closed” aspects of this community and what this means for current debates about “open” innovation.