Blockchain's Struggle to Deliver Impersonal Exchange

Pompeu Fabra University Economics and Business Working Paper Series 1549

32 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2017  

Benito Arruñada

Pompeu Fabra University

Date Written: January 18, 2017


With its decentralized peer-to-peer structure, application of the blockchain technology underpinning Bitcoin holds the promise of making impersonal exchange possible for all types of old and new transactions in all types of markets. Such theoretical promise is examined here by identifying what value blockchain adds to the contractual process, exploring its contractual potential and analyzing the main difficulties it is facing. The article argues that blockchain applications will evolve towards dual structures separating causal and formal transactions. Complementarily and contrary to naive conceptions that proclaim the end of intermediaries and state involvement, such applications will rely on a variety of interface and enforcement specialists, including standard public interventions, especially for property transactions. Without these interventions, blockchain will at most work as an in personam — instead of as an in rem — system, therefore facilitating mere personal instead of impersonal transactions.

Keywords: property rights, enforcement, transaction costs, impersonal exchange, blockchain, distributed ledgers

JEL Classification: D23, K11, K12, L85, G38, H41, O17, P48

Suggested Citation

Arruñada, Benito, Blockchain's Struggle to Deliver Impersonal Exchange (January 18, 2017). Pompeu Fabra University Economics and Business Working Paper Series 1549. Available at SSRN:

Benito Arruñada (Contact Author)

Pompeu Fabra University ( email )

Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27
Department of Economics and Business
Barcelona, 08005
+34 93 542 25 72 (Phone)
+34 93 542 17 46 (Fax)


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