Trustless Trust

79 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2016 Last revised: 8 Aug 2016

See all articles by Kevin Werbach

Kevin Werbach

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department

Date Written: August 8, 2016


Distributed ledgers, also known as blockchains, could be the most consequential development in information technology since the internet. Created to support the Bitcoin digital currency, the blockchain is actually something deeper: A novel solution to the age-old human problem of trust. The new architecture of “trustless trust” makes it possible to trust the outputs of a system without trusting any actor within it. It raises the tantalizing possibility of an economy that is simultaneously more efficient, more fair, and more free. Its impacts will extend far beyond the technology and finance communities that gave birth to the blockchain.

For all its potential, trustless trust faces substantial challenges and creates significant dangers. The technologists building distributed ledger systems are ill-equipped to answer the most important questions. These are fundamentally matters of governance rather than computer science, and less about regulation of blockchains than how blockchains regulate. They tie into issues that legal scholars and philosophers have engaged with for some time. A theory of trustless trust and its relationship to law points the way to new solutions that supplement, complement, or substitute for legal enforcement. Surprisingly, law and the blockchain are destined more for cooperation than conflict.

Keywords: Blockchain, trust, bitcoin, cryptocurrency, reputation systems

Suggested Citation

Werbach, Kevin, Trustless Trust (August 8, 2016). TPRC 44: The 44th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2016. Available at SSRN:

Kevin Werbach (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States
215-898-1222 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics