Why’s Szabo Afraid of “Smart Contract” Critiques?

The inventor of “smart contracts” rejects critique. That says a lot about the inventor and sheds bad light on the underlying invention. Let’s explore.

Oct 17, 2018 · 23 min read

1. Against “Smart Contracts”

CleanApp’s position against “smart contract” is principled and clear. We’re against the terminology because it muddies the waters and invites unnecessary legal/regulatory scrutiny.

Usage of the term “smart contract” is only sowing (1) chaos, (2) incoherence, (3) unnecessary complexity, (4) regulatory blowback, (5) added costs, (6) confusion, and (7) reduced innovation.

We’ve made our argument clearly, we continue to refine it, and we’ve worked overtime to bring it to the attention of decision makers who can do something about it.

We’re glad to see that the argument is resonating:

We’ve also tried to engage directly with Nick Szabo, the person who built the conceptual lattice around “smart contracts,” and gave “smart contracts” that presumptuous name.

But Nick “muted” us, claiming our critiques were “word-salad” and “gibberish.”

We don’t think our critiques are “gibberish,” and Vitalik Buterin & Vlad Zamfir don’t seem to think our critiques are gibberish.

Which raises the question: Why’s Szabo Afraid of “Smart Contract” Critiques?

2. Who We Are

We’re a small nonprofit that fell into crypto legal theory a few years ago when we were asked by friends (crypto devs) to explain “smart contracts” to a group of senior lawyers.

In the time since, we’ve spent a lot of time analyzing “smart contract” theory, practice, code, legality, politics, economics, game theory, institutional frameworks, and so on.

We read a LOT of Szabo, Buterin, Hoskinson, Larimer, Wood, Sills, Zamfir, and many other thinkers, new & old (Fuller, Corbin, Farnsworth, Coase, Calabresi, Posner — on top of the standard political econ fare one reads when they’re trying to understand how the world is run).

We formed reading/study groups to discuss nuances and blind spots in these arguments. We pooled resources to prepare thoughtful collaboratively-sourced responses and published our analysis in different forms and forums.

In short, we’ve earned the right to say what follows.

So if you’re a partisan who reads this as an unsubstantiated hit piece on “poor Nick Szabo,” we ask that you familiarize yourself with our crypto-allied credentials.

Then we ask that you familiarize yourself with Nick Szabo’s own style of intellectual ruthlessness.

3. Back Story

Over the last few months, we tried many different ways to incentivize Szabo into a debate over crypto legal theory and/or “smart contracts.” Each previous time, no luck.

But Buterin’s bombshell and ensuing CryptoTwitter frenzy were too much, apparently.

The man who gave the world “smart contracts” went on the defensive:

We got excited, because we’d worked overtime to bring Szabo into the ring. We thanked him and sent all sorts of good faith signals.

We then started asking questions and sharpening our analysis.

When it became clear that we were asking way too many questions for comfort, we got EOS-ed.

Not one of our questions got answered!

4. Szabo’s Evasiveness is a Problem

The self-proclaimed “blockchain, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts pioneer” decided to commit the ultimate crypto sin of censoring dissent because there were too many word blocks in too many word chains, and they were impossible to decrypt — even for someone as brainy as Szabo.

We call BS!

Szabo knows exactly what we’re asking: What’s a “smart contract” — in theory, and in reality? How are “smart contracts” enforced — in theory, and in reality?

He just doesn’t want to answer because giving honest answers would probably: (1) show 90s and/or 2018 Szabo is wrong; (2) expose the unstable legal libertarian viral load he pre-loaded onto “smart contracts” under the guise of “settled law;” and (3) reveal who knows what sort of other mischief.

Here’s the thread if you want to see the “gibberish” for yourself. If you want to see the sum total of CleanApp’s good faith attempts to engage with Szabo, take a look at a Twitter search for “Szabo & CleanApp.”

5. Burden of Proof Shift Fallacy

Here’s why Szabo’s evasiveness so offensive. Szabo is not just eliding critique; he’s actively shifting the burden of untangling his mess onto others.

Take a look at this exchange:

Gabriel Shapiro is right to point out that many people are misusing the phrase. But he’s dead wrong to identify the people who are misusing the phrase as ‘ignorant’ and he’s dead wrong that it’s lawyers who are principally misusing the phrase.

Lawyers occupy a very small part of today’s crypto universe, and while lawyers do misuse Legalese all the time, it’s rare for lawyers to butcher a Legalese term as foundational as ‘contract.’ It happens, but rarely.

A lawyer misusing the word ‘contract’ (smart or otherwise) would be like a doctor misusing the term X-Ray. It happens; but rarely.

Is Szabo misusing the word ‘contract’ — ? Absolutely yes. If you want to know how, please read the full argument with an open mind, instead of defensively, like Szabo.

6. “Smart Contract” = Conceptual Slippage

When Shapiro acknowledges rampant misuse but then tries to pin it on “ignorant people,” and Szabo attempts to shift the burden of misuse onto those “ignorant people,” we’ve got a major problem.

Those “ignorant people” can’t correct their misuse of the term “smart contract” when the underlying term is conceptually amorphous.

Please note the effect of the fiat assertion of superiority inherent in the adjective “smart.” Please note the needlessly adversarial and uncritical overall message:

“If you don’t understand ‘smart contracts,’ then you’re just not smart — you’re ‘ignorant’ — ; don’t bother asking questions, you’re not smart enough to understand the answers.”

Maybe if your mind was “greater,” you’d get it.

But if anyone’s ignorant here, it’s people who promulgate conceptually slippery terms.

7. Introducing “Smart X-Ray”

Maybe Szabo is just too close to his own ideas and has just lost perspective.

If that’s the case, a simple thought experiment can give us an inside look into today’s harmful rhetoric on “smart contracts.”

Let’s illustrate the problem with “smart contract” by returning to the term X-Ray above.

Nick Szabo is now Dr. Nick Szabo, a radiologist and amateur coder. In 1994, he invents a blockchain-like process that allows multiple X-Ray images for a given patient to be stored sequentially and securely. He names his invention Smart X-Ray.

The Smart X-Ray process permits the patient to do all sorts of wonderful disintermediated things. In Dr. Szabo’s own words, patients can use Smart X-Rays do the following:

  • authorize radiologists all over the world to access their Smart X-ray images and obtain independent interpretations/diagnoses;
  • it permits the patient to hire an imagery specialist who can optimize & overlay the raw data to produce composite Smart X-Ray images that are far more revealing than just the sum of all parts (they can show progression over time; 3D rendering; etc.);
  • Smart X-Ray processes can analyze streaming data in automated fashion to produce autonomous diagnostic products that are “superior” to what’s possible by human radiologists;
  • Smart X-Ray can do on-chain analysis, where patients can do pay-as-you-go X-Ray scans at participating locations, and Smart X-Rays underpin a suites of self-diagnosis tools and self-treatment options.
  • […]

At first read, this seems really emancipatory and cool.

But then other doctors start noticing worrisome trends in large groups of patients who are self-diagnosing via Smart X-Ray tech, and who are self-medicating in ways that are causing unintended self-harm.

More worrisome than the observed harm from Smart X-Ray tech, fellow doctors realize that a wholesale move towards dis-intermediated (doctor-less) Smart X-Rays can trigger massive public health crises — everything from (a) radiation poisoning from hypochondriacs doing daily Smart X-Rays to (m) […] to (z) exponentially increasing rates of medical debt as patients encumber their savings and earnings to avail themselves of this magical cure-all.

Other doctors start noticing domestic and foreign jurisdictions passing Smart X-Ray legislation, intended to clarify the status of Smart X-Rays. Regulatory agencies are also looking closer at Smart X-Rays, with negative effects for other innovators in the radiology tech space.

Then, in 2018, another doctor writes Dr. Szabo and asks,

Hi Dr. Szabo, big fan of your work, would love to hear about the evolution of your thoughts on Smart X-Rays in light of modern research: (1) What are Smart X-Rays — in contemporary theory & practice; (2) How do Smart X-Rays diagnose or supposedly “self-diagnose”— ?

Dr. Szabo’s response? “I mute questions like this long time ago. That’s way too much word-salad.”

8. More Analysis > Less Analysis

Szabo is wrong to censor analysis and to ridicule critique.

The fact that the crypto community is letting him get away with it is shameful and self-destructive.

We can see why by charting the conceptual parallels between “smart contract” and our hypothetical Smart X-ray —

“Smart contract” vis-a-vis a hypothetical “Smart X-Ray”

Are Smart X-Rays diagnostic tools and/or diagnostic procedures for purposes of licensing, public safety regulatory compliance, and just basic consumer protection? The answer is … maybe. It depends on what jurisdiction(s) we’re in, what Smart X-Ray we’re analyzing, what methodologies and frameworks we’re using, and so forth.

But when Dr. Szabo is asked whether Smart X-Ray (“smart contract”) is a diagnosis (“enforcement”) tool — after he’s spent 25 years marketing Smart X-Ray as an ultra-accurate diagnostic/enforcement tool — here’s his response: stupid question.

If you’re dumb enough to think of Smart X-Ray as a diagnosis tool, that’s your problem, not mine.

Thanks Dr. Szabo, that really helps the billions of people who are wondering how they’ll use Smart X-Rays and “smart contracts” to become better and stronger versions of themselves.

9. Bad Definitions = Faulty Arguments

Q: Dr. Szabo, do Smart X-Rays provide diagnosis?

A: Worrying about whether Smart X-Ray is “medical diagnosis” reflects a profound misunderstanding. The main relation of Smart X-Rays to traditional hospitals is that Smart X-Rays control burden of diagnosis. If “do no harm is 90% of medicine,” then a good Smart X-Ray may be “99% of medicine.”

Confused? So are we:

10. “SCs = Not Smart,” says … Szabo

Here’s one thing self-proclaimed smart people often fail to understand. Something is rendered smart when it makes something easier, not harder.

In the words of Albert Einstein:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Szabo is smart when he deploys this critique externally, which he does very often:

Yet Szabo’s definitions of “smart contract” and “contract” and “contract enforcement” and “legal enforcement” and so on, fail to meet Szabo’s own standard of smart

A smartphone is smart not because it’s a “computerized phone,” but because it gives users easy, intuitive, non-jargonistic hyperutility — they can do video chats, browse the web, take photos, etc. much easier than with any of the disparate pieces of tech they used for these tasks before.

A smartphone is incredibly complex technology, but it’s smart because it makes this complex technology accessible to, and usable by, the masses.

Today’s “smart contracts” are not available to the masses; they’re not comprehensible by the masses; they are not even accessible or comprehensible to the brilliant crypto devs who have been working hands-on with these sorta-legal/sorta-not constructs for years.

If “smart contracts” were really smart there would be no need for this discussion.

Furthermore, Szabo’s attempts to clarify things just makes the situation worse. Szabo “smart contract” taxonomies/conceptual maps do not make contracts easier. They make contracts more confusing.

Szabo’s own terms, postures, explanations are an excellent illustration of the problem with “smart contract” terminology:

Szabo’s had 25 years to play with his clear plastic vending machine model. You’d think by this time someone would have pointed out that his weirdly-unilateral verification/automation framework just makes things more confusing, not less; and it’s totally unnecessary.

The same vending machine also automates the user’s performance (put a dollar in the little slot, push a button, and wait). The same machine verifies the vendor’s performance (a debit in the quantity field corresponding to the item bought; a no-complaint value next to the transaction block if buyer’s satisfied and didn’t call to get a refund).

And in any event, you don’t need to distinguish between verifying and automating performance. Contract law has no need for verifying versus automating performance. Parties typically don’t have a need for verifying versus automating performance.

Parties want the bargained-for performance, and parties want the freedom to say whether the performance is satisfactory or not (for a reasonable period of time after the performance is tendered).

11. Contract > Smart Contract

Here are some side effects of Szabo’s automation, verification and performance incentivization scripts:

  1. Szabo’s “smart contracts” strip parties of the full freedoms afforded by the settled and well-understood doctrine of efficient breach.
  2. Szabo’s “smart contracts” strip parties of the settled and well-understood right to demand cure;
  3. Szabo’s “smart contracts” potentially strip parties of complex but well-understood contract law protections like warranties.
  4. etc. (the list is as long as … settled contract law).

But don’t worry, “smart contracts” automate & verify performance, whatever that means. Smart X-Rays automate & verify diagnosis, just like vending machines.

Just don’t ask how, because that’s just … gibberish.

But here’s what’s happening under the hood:

Because Szabo can’t afford to publicize that “smart contracts” radically restrict the full suite of contract rights that parties have under “dumb” contracts, he pulls a classic legal move: (1) he issues fiat contract rights, (2) formalizes these rights, and then (3) claims that these new rights are actually far more valuable than the previous rights you might have had.

Before “smart contracts,” you didn’t even have the right to automate performance; you didn’t even have the right to verify performance; but now …

Simple way to verify. Just insist that Nick answer one basic question: Which instrument gives parties more rights, ‘smart contracts’ or ‘contracts’ — ?

Szabo can’t say “smart contracts” > ‘contracts’ because that’s … umm … not true. He doesn’t want to admit, but he’ll need to, that “contract law” > “smart contract.” And so the only way to save face is to issue some version of “it depends,” at which point, checkmate, game over.

That’s “old law” > “new law.”

Not CleanApp saying this. That’s Nick Szabo all the way:

Dr. Szabo: “Patients can if they choose seek a traditional X-Ray to backstop a Smart X-Ray although in many situations where a Smart X-ray is useful the exercise would be pointless because the ex ante burden of diagnosis is higher than its added treatment incentive benefits.”

If you’re confused like us, it’s ok, we’re probably just ignorant together. Whatever you do, don’t spew more gibberish in the form of follow-up questions. Just let the “greatest minds” do their great mind work.

12. Stop Posturing & Answer Questions

If the posture of our hypothetical Dr. Szabo sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost identical to the posture of the now-disgraced (but still unrepentant) head of Theranos, Inc. — Elizabeth Holmes.

Holmes claimed to have devised smart blood tests that used very small amounts of blood to do all sorts of automated smart diagnosis. She sold the idea to Silicon Valley and raised the valuation of Theranos to nearly $10 billion.

There was only one problem with Theranos & Holmes, and it was a big one: Holmes was lying to investors.

Here’s an excerpt from an SEC press release on Theranos:

“The Theranos story is an important lesson for Silicon Valley,” said Jina Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Innovators who seek to revolutionize and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today, not just what they hope it might do someday.”

Even though she’s a defendant in a criminal action now, Holmes maintains her innocence.

The defense advanced by Holmes and our hypothetical Dr. Szabo is identical: “We are telling you the truth, you’re just too dumb to understand it.”

No, the people asking questions aren’t dumb; Szabo’s just cowering from the responsibilities that come with misuse of Legalese.

It’s Szabo’s job to answer these questions, not ours:

  1. Is a “smart contract” a contract?
  2. How are “smart contracts” actually enforced?

Szabo’s responses thus far have been: (a) fiat usage (smart contracts are contracts but they’re not legal contracts, but they can be “backstopped” by legal contracts, and they’re smart because they’re computerized … like phones and clear plastic vending machines); (b) conclusory ‘analysis’ (smart contracts do enforcement, you see, but without enforcement — ); (c) misdirection & further obfuscation (look dummy, a good smart contract does on-chain enforcement; a bad smart contract is — ?); (d) etc.

Szabo knows he shouldn’t be doing any of the above because this adds unnecessary complexity and makes his overall project more vulnerable — by his own logic:

Szabo knows the importance understanding basic legal concepts. In 2010, he even promised to do a blog series introducing his readers to basic legal concepts.

But the thirst for Cool Aid from one’s own crystal clear plastic vending machine is just too much.

Szabo’s defensiveness and evasiveness undermine credibility — a lot.

13. Do No Harm

There are two major problems with the Dr. Szabo & Mrs. Holmes posture above: (1) disingenuousness; (2) blindness to harm.

While Szabo may not have formal duties of candor towards any narrow class of investors, (or maybe he does, who knows?) he actually does owe broader duties of candor to the public as a U.S.-trained lawyer. This is especially true because Szabo is agitating for a radical departure from settled legal forms and settled usage of contract terminology in Legalese and non-legal contexts.

In his own words, and by reference to Szabo’s own metaphors, he’s literally trying to re-write our socio-legal DNA:

If law shapes society’s most basic structures, as master genes — genes that control other genes — shape the basic form of our bodies, then Justinian’s Code is the ancestral master DNA of the West. If society is a protocol stack and law is a low-level protocol governing our higher-level interactions of politics and commerce, then it’s fair to say that the Justinian Code was the Internet Protocol that long governed, and still in many ways governs, the Web that is Western society.


Tribonian in the service of Justinian introduced and passed on fundamental flaws in the Western political DNA. Or, to switch back to our other tech metaphor, some severe bugs in the lowest layer of our society’s protocol stack.

Wikipedia: DNA

Because he’s the one who has identified fundamental flaws in the social BIOS, Szabo has the burden of explaining what these severe bugs are, and then proving why his vision of contract is smarter than the status quo.

We’re not cool with using “smart contracts” to make the world’s socio-legal code CRISPR without a thorough understanding of the bugs and flaws that Szabo & Co. identify, and without a rigorous analysis of the systemic risks involved.

Although this comes from a slightly different context (ongoing blockchain governance debates), Vitalik’s posture is instructive here.

“Smart contract” is not the status quo; contract is the status quo. Szabo’s the one agitating for a trend reversal; and he’s not satisfied his burden of proof. Not even close.

Remember the exposition of “basic legal ideas” that Szabo promised would be coming “over the next few months” — back in 2010 — ? Yeah, they never came.

But when someone else steps in to provide that basic legal clarity, Szabo brands it gibberish.

Not only is Szabo’s posture mean and counter-productive, but it’s the archetype of performance de-incentivization! And if Szabo is comfortable bullying intellectual peers this way, can you imagine the real effect Szabo’s bullying has on more vulnerable targets?

No need to wonder, here’s an illustration (one of many):

We take this slight detour to highlight the 250 followers who chuckled along, and the 46 followers who retweeted this charming missile. Translation: “If you’re a Java Script dev, Nick Szabo says you’re the janitor of programming; but don’t worry, Szabo & Co. are working to optimize your performance incentives so you can be freed from your drudgery — iff you stop being ignorant, that is.”

We want to be kind, so here’s a theory: maybe the reason Szabo sees gibberish is because his own conception of “smart contract” is so contrary to accepted usage that he has subconsciously stopped seeing socio-legal reality as reality, and operates in a “smart contract” socio-legal reality of his own creation?

When everyone around you is ignorant, it can’t help but affirm one’s brilliance. Especially when one’s followers don’t force answers to basic questions like:

Silence often speaks louder than words; censorship often amplifies the message being censored.

14. Szabo’s Strategic Mistake: Censorship

Contract is the incumbent — the undisputed socio-legal heavyweight champion of the world. “Smart contract” is the challenger.

Szabo’s “smart contract” idea is an attempt to supplant contract; to fix the system from within.

Szabo should know the odds are against him, even if he doesn’t act like it.

Please take a moment to recall Machiavelli’s guidance for crypto theorists:

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

And here’s what’s fascinating in this instance.

When the new order of things that the innovator is proposing is … new law (which is what “smart contract” is), the innovator must make sure the new law is unimpeachable.

The innovator has to be ready to argue three things:

  1. The new law is on the side of the old law (e.g., conceptual interoperability; institutional compatibility; or if short of compatibility, then at minimum, lack of even the merest appearance of conflict between the new law and the old law).
  2. The burden is on the innovator to show those who are doing well under the old conditions will do orders-of-magnitude better under the new conditions. That’s obsequiousness, yes, but it gives higher likelihood of success than outright declaration of war or usurpation of power.
  3. For maximum likelihood of success, the innovator must show that the new order of things together with the old order of things will make everyone better off, not just the innovator & those who’ve profited under the old regime.

Szabo’s vision of “smart contract” does not satisfy any of these three criteria, let alone all three. Why not? Because Szabo doesn’t eat salad (e.g., because he censors critique).

15. Szabo’s View of Contract is Flawed

How can you tell that Szabo’s “smart contract” was meant to be a clever Trojan horse attack on the old regime — ? Because he decided to train his mental faculties first and foremost on contract — the foundation of today’s capitalist governance systems — without clarifying his position on law.

Szabo knows the “contract” is a legal form; he knows that enforceability is the main defining feature of a contract; he knows that under the super-majority global view, enforceability cannot be done without third parties.

Nonetheless, he wants to change how third party enforcement works by convincing people that third party enforcement is unnecessary.

Szabo’s main position is that two or more parties can “self-enforce” a contract without the need for a third party enforcement mechanism. But “self-enforcement” is an oxymoron.

In order to maintain this position, Szabo must now argue that a “smart contract” is NOT a legal form. That’s a losing argument.

Further, the determination of the legal-alegal-illegal status of a given instrument is largely outside the parties’ control. Where parties do have a lot of control is in contract disputes, where they’re free to adopt any range of legal-alegal-illegal postures to advance their particular aims.

Szabo knows all this because this is Contract Law 101, and yet he has managed to pin himself into a very difficult corner.

  1. Szabo knows this position is wrong — “smart contracts” may be legal forms (e.g., when third parties with enforcement authority anywhere in the world say a given “smart contract” is a legal form).
  2. Not only that, Szabo needs “smart contracts” to be legal in order for them to be valuable (“enforceable = legal = legally enforceable,” the words ‘enforceable’ and ‘legal’ are synonymous in contract law).
  3. Wondering whether a ‘smart contract’ is legally enforceable is the whole point. It’s “100% of the law,” going back to Szabo’s fractional imaginaries of “9/10ths” & “99/100ths.” Nobody cares about “smart contracts” that are not enforceable. And en-force-ment = legal en-force-ment. There is no other kind.

Szabo knows all this, but won’t back down. Which is why bringing him down to Earth will be so hard, but ultimately so important for the broader crypto enterprise.

What Szabo’s doing is using a legal form to pursue anti-legal policies (not illegal, but anti-legal, as in against the status quo), while convincing his legion followers that “smart contracts” are strictly alegal creatures.

It’s a foxy move, but ultimately, a losing argument.

Crypto would be much better served by continuing to do its thing, focusing more on material hyperutility propositions, and eliminating CryptoLegalese as much as possible.

Exhibit A for this recommendation? The very fact that this article has to be written, and the very fact that we now have a Crypto Law Review.

The only people who benefit from Legalese (crypto or otherwise), are lawyers. Less Legalese = more resources for vital development work.

It’s really that simple.

16. Crypto-Hobbesian-Discourse = Bad

Bigger picture, Szabo’s rejection of critique affirms a simplistic Hobbesian crypto-intellectual climate where binary lawgics and opinions become epistemic truisms based on fiat + path dependence + time. That’s a recipe for disaster.

This level of conceptual disarray allows incumbents to easily apply age-old divide-and-conquer, slice-and-dice, define-and-tax governance strategies & tactics — to crypto.

These governance strategies/tactics are so deeply rooted in our socio-legal BIOS that even people who are conscious of them (like Szabo) often fall prey to them.

Recall Machiavelli’s expert guidance on using ambition to curb ambition. And now let’s observe how external legitimation and approbation quickly manifest as internal self-congratulation.

Fighting words? Nah.

At that very moment, the greatest minds in Bitcoin are arguably the ones who were attacking Bitcoin, exposing every possible logical, lawgical, and security vulnerability. For it’s precisely when the self-proclaimed greatest minds are feasting that an attack by the actual greatest minds can do its greatest harm.

Detail from The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773), inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid.

We shouldn’t forget that the Trojan Horse wasn’t surreptitiously inserted by the Greeks into Troy; it was hauled into town willingly by Troy’s “greatest minds” as a victory trophy. Legends teach how the Greeks escaped late at night, only after the Trojans had their fill of drink, and merriment, and self-congratulated one another to complacency and sleep.

Szabo knows how to tag participants who are out of the frame but whose efforts made that little soirée happen. Just look at those cute arrows in the photo.

But the folks off screen are not the greatest minds, so they don’t make the cut. They don’t get acknowledged. They’re muted.

Yeah, politics of inclusion are simultaneously politics of exclusion: “Sorry un-great-ful minds. Better luck next time!

17. “Smart Contracts” Undermine Liberty

“Lulz. You’re just mad cause you didn’t get an invite to the party.”

“Lulz. You’re just mad cause you got muted.”

No, we’re not mad at anyone or anything. We’ve been doing these types of critiques, in this level of excruciating detail, for a long while. Just ask Vlad Zamfir. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do, not because we need to, or necessarily want to.

The stakes are too high, and nobody else seems to be calling out the big White Whale on his BS.

We just want to make sure that everyone understands what’s really at stake when they’re drinking Cool Aid from Szabo’s “smart contract” vending machine.

The counter-argument to ours is, of course, also … Liberty (of the ‘freedom of contract’ variety).

Yeah, ok, but those people who are being controlled had the freedom to not be controlled. Nothing forced them to enter into that “smart contract;” nothing forced them to drink the Cool Aid!

When patients choose the Smart X-Ray diagnosis, medical advice, and treatment from Dr. Robot over Dr. Human, aren’t they just exercising autonomy and self-governance rights?

In some ways, yes.

But there’s also another thing happening under the surface: wholesale capture and technocratic control of patients by the humans who control Dr. Robot, Smart X-Rays, and “smart contracts.”

  1. The greatest trick proponents of “smart contract” terminology are pulling on unwitting populations is convincing people that decentralized contracting networks will magically eliminate middlemen and maximize Liberty and individual choice.
  2. In reality, crypto-conceptual-slop like “smart contract” is what allows middlemen and existing power structures to use blockchains to control populations with unprecedented and ruthlessly totalitarian disintermediated effectiveness (e.g., externalizing, decentralizing, and thereby “hiding” the actual mechanisms of control).
  3. “Self-enforcing” “smart contract” is a highly effective mechanism of social control because it uses the illusion of unbridled individual choice to mask automated individual/social behavior modification (“incentivizing performance”).
  4. The greatest trick proponents of “smart contract” terminology are pulling on themselves is believing that they are in control.

So no, we don’t want to be at parties where we think we’re the greatest minds and in control. We want to be invited to parties where we develop pragmatic strategies and tactics for using blockchains to maximize individual, social, and planetary welfare.

If you want to send us an invite to those parties, here’s how.


Szabo called our work word-salad. If so, it’s a big tasty salad with a lot of tough nuts and a ton of fiber to chew on.

You might not like the taste or the look of this, but if you read this far, you know the nutritional value of seeing how particular “smart contract” modes of argumentation can lead to conceptual dead ends.

We delved a little bit into contract law, but not really.

We need a little bit of time to digest the salad as well. But the main course is coming right up.

Crypto Law Review

A journal pushing the bounds of our legal imaginaries…

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store