UCL School of Management welcome Professor Hanna Halaburda, NYU Stern,to host a research seminar discussing “Will Blockchains Disintermediate Platforms? The Problem of Credible Decentralization in Daos.”
Blockchain technologies are designed to promote decentralization and self-governance in economic and social settings. In the context of platforms, an early claim of some proponents of these technologies was that blockchains would promote disintermediation, replacing intermediaries with decentralized governance, for instance leading to platforms governed by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). We have seen some elements of that (e.g., in DeFi–Decentralized Finance), but upon closer examination, most of the “decentralized” platforms are actually controlled by a small number of agents, or even a single agent, that effectively act as intermediaries.
In this work we study the underlying dynamics and explore the potential for decentralized governance of blockchain-based platforms by modeling a simpli ed setting with a one-sided platform and comparing control by a centralized intermediary to control by a DAO that makes decisions via majority voting of its governance tokens.
Our analysis suggests that a “democratic” DAO with governance tokens equally distributed among potential users would set a low access price for the platform and maximize network size and total surplus. If tokens can be traded, however, there is a strong tendency for concentration of control, which makes it challenging to maintain decentralized governance. This tendency becomes stronger if at least a certain fraction of small holders is myopic, and would sell their tokens without considering the future impact of their actions. Concentration in the ownership of governance tokens can be limited either by design or by regulation, but implementation and enforcement would be challenging. Intermediaries may be changed by blockchain technologies, but they are not likely to disappear.