Blockchain’s Struggle to Deliver Impersonal Exchange
Abstract: 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. 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.