The reports of antitrust’s death at the hands of decentralized blockchains were an exaggeration. The premise is logical: decentralized markets should mitigate the need for antitrust laws, which typically address abuses of power by, and secret collusion among, centralized firms in concentrated markets. Indeed, blockchains strive to prevent market structures that facilitate collusion and monopolization in the first place through decentralization, a form of antitrust self-regulation. And blockchain communities are debating and deciding how to effect this self-regulation, with the potential for autonomous implementations of market constraints designed to preserve decentralization, in real time and in public. All of this means that antitrust principles are very much alive on the blockchain. However, there exists a conflict: recent efforts to self-regulate antitrust may constitute per se violations of the very laws that such efforts are intended to preempt.
The first to identify this conflict, this Article proposes that antitrust is entering a new blockchain era, one that is self-regulated and transparent, but not without risks. This Article then argues that self-regulation efforts in the blockchain context that would normally receive per se condemnation by U.S. courts, like price fixing, should instead receive more fulsome reviews under the rule of reason. The procompetitive potential of such self-regulation, combined with judicial inexperience in complex blockchain markets, warrants such an approach.
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