Can Blockchain Solve the Holdup Problem in Contracts?

35 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2018 Last revised: 26 Apr 2018

Richard Holden

University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Anup Malani

University of Chicago - Law School; University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; Resources for the Future; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 28, 2017

Abstract

A basic problem in contracting is holdup: after one party has made relationship-specific investments, the other party refuses to perform unless the first one offers better terms than the original contract. Such renegotiation deters relationship-specific investments and reduces the value of trade via contract, which can either result in no trade or more trade within firms. A classic example is the case of Alaska Packers Association v. Demenico, 117 F. 99 (9th Cir. 1902). Economists have devised solutions – called renegotiation design and revelation mechanisms – to these problems, but they are presently difficult to implement as they require very strong commitment to specific trades, a feature that the current contract-writing wherewithal and court system cannot provide. However, blockchain, a new technology that creates a distributed, unalterable and open ledger, combined with so-called smart contracts, automated scripts that execute contracts, can provide such commitment. Blockchain can thereby either make original contracts unable to be renegotiated or enable the commitment required for renegotiation design or revelation mechanisms. In this manner, blockchain technology and smart contracts can increase the gains from contractual trade, reducing the size of firms and increasing economic output.

Keywords: Blockchain, Smart Contracts, Contract Theory, Holdup, Renegotiation, Relationship-Specific Investment, Commitment, Revelation Mechanism, Incomplete Contracts

JEL Classification: D86, K12

Suggested Citation

Holden, Richard and Malani, Anup, Can Blockchain Solve the Holdup Problem in Contracts? (December 28, 2017). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 846. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3093879 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3093879

Richard Holden

University of New South Wales (UNSW) ( email )

Kensington
Sydney, NSW 2052
Australia

Anup Malani (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-9602 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/malani/

University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Resources for the Future

1616 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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