Is decentralized finance actually decentralized? A social network analysis of the Aave protocol on the Ethereum blockchain

Ziqiao Ao, Gergely Horvath, Luyao Zhang

Decentralized finance (DeFi) has the potential to disrupt centralized finance by validating peer-to-peer transactions through tamper-proof smart contracts and thus significantly lowering the transaction cost charged by financial intermediaries. However, the actual realization of peer-to-peer transactions and the levels and effects of decentralization are largely unknown. Our research pioneers a blockchain network study that applies social network analysis to measure the level, dynamics, and impacts of decentralization in DeFi token transactions on the Ethereum blockchain. First, we find a significant core-periphery structure in the AAVE token transaction network where the cores include the two largest centralized crypto exchanges. Second, we provide evidence that multiple network features consistently characterize decentralization dynamics. Finally, we document that a more decentralized network significantly predicts a higher return and lower volatility of the DeFi tokens. We point out that our approach is seminal for inspiring future extensions related to the facets of application scenarios, research questions, and methodologies on the mechanics of blockchain decentralization.

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