NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Fine Print in Smart Contracts

Joshua S. Gans

NBER Working Paper No. 25443
Issued in January 2019
NBER Program(s):The Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program

One of the purported benefits of blockchain technologies is the ability to house what have been termed ‘smart’ contracts. Such contracts are potentially self-executing depending on the state of information recorded on a blockchain ledger. This paper examines the capabilities of smart contracts from an economic perspective. It is demonstrated that by improving observability and reducing the costs of verification of contract obligation performance, the space of feasible contracts can be enlarged. Moreover, by providing commitments to various monetary payments, a blockchain can potentially create a foundation to house certain mechanisms that have been shown to overcome difficulties of contractual incompleteness. This is demonstrated using a simple international trade environment. Thus, even though smart contracts must respect the incentives of decision-makers in their obligations, they have the potential to use easily verifiable elements to create incentives to reduce hold-up and other contractual difficulties.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25443

 
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