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Institutional economists have analyzed permissionless blockchains as a novel institutional building block for voluntary economic exchange and distributed governance, with their unique protocol features such as automated contract execution, high levels of network and process transparency, and uniquely distributed governance. But such institutional analysis needs to be complemented by polycentric analysis of how blockchains change. We characterize such change as resulting from internal sources and external sources. Internal sources include constitutional (protocol) design and collective-choice processes for updating protocols, which help coordinate network participants and users. External sources include competitive pressure from other cryptocurrency networks. By studying two leading networks, Bitcoin and Ethereum, we illustrate how conceptualizing blockchains as competing and constitutional polycentric enterprises clarifies their processes of change.
Property institutions should ideally provide economic actors with certainty that their local choices about investment will not be unsettled by shifting political economic equilibria. We argue that for this to occur, political autonomy, administrative and enforcement capacity, political constraints, and accessible legal institutions are each necessary. A comparison of the evolution of property rights for settlers and American Indians in the United States shows how political and legal forces shape the evolution of property institutions. American Indians, who had property institutions before Europeans arrived, could not defend their land from Europeans and later Americans due to lacking military capacity. Settlers' property rights were relatively secure because the government had sufficient autonomy and capacity to broadly define and enforce their rights, political institutions constrained the government from expropriating settlers' property, and legal institutions provided a forum for settlers to adjudicate and defend their rights in court. Native Americans, in contrast, had systematically inconsistent and often expropriative policy treatment by the government. Although tribes have technically been sovereign since the 1970s, tribal governments continue to lack sufficient political and legal autonomy and capacity to define and enforce property institutions in response to evolving local conditions.
Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution serves as a valuable case study for understanding the implementation dynamic created by a highly transformative constitution. Implementation of such a constitution demands a good deal from the government but also affords the government considerable discretion as to how it should prioritize the realization of the new constitution’s myriad requirements. Ecuador’s experience since the enactment of the 2008 Constitution demonstrates how this weighty blend of implementation costs and discretion over priorities can result in a need for constitutional corrections, after missteps in implementation have become clear. These corrections may take the form of political action, popular protests, and ultimately, revision of the constitution itself.