The question of how miners will be paid in the long run, after mining subsidy rewards disappear is a much debated topic in Bitcoin. For those who don’t know, mining rewards are set to half every year until they finally reach zero sometime in the year 2140. How the Bitcoin mining ecosystem will remain profitable (and thus healthy) is up in the air. Miners are important as they provide security to the Bitcoin network because they convert real world energy into network security to guard against attacks from malicious forces. Therefore, the more decentralized and diverse a mining ecosystem is, the better for Bitcoin.
So what will happen when mining rewards disappear? Well, some miners feel that transaction fees should rise up to fill up the shortfall. As Ang Li puts it from an excerpt of the a recent article at Bitcoin.com
The incentives that Satoshi Nakamoto designed in the Bitcoin whitepaper are not enough to sustain mining for long, Li feels, adding that as the block reward halves every four years, miners income will continue to decline. According to him, keeping the block size where it is now will not provide enough incentive and therefore has to be reconsidered. Li also believes that only a larger mining transaction fee will maintain the balance. “By increasing block size, and transaction numbers, the fees will gradually replace the block reward, providing enough incentive for the miners to defend the bitcoin hashrate. This is the fundamental way to achieve healthy development of the whole ecosystem.”
I’ve written quite a lot about the misconceptions and deliberate misdirection that some proponents in the Bitcoin community choose to spread around in order to shape the public perception of what makes Bitcoin valuable, and as a result change the fundamental value proposition of Bitcoin. As you all should know by now, “Value does not exist outside the consciousness of Man” – Carl Menger. So changing people’s consciousness by way of affecting their ideas, affects the value of Bitcoin. Thus it is important that we re-evaluate our notions of why Bitcoin is valuable every so often with a huge dose of skepticism.
In today’s article, I’d like to review what the fundamental security model of Bitcoin is, as intended by its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, (at least in my interpretation of it) why that model is the best we can possibly hope for, and why any further attempts at adding extra layers of ‘security’ on top of this model just ends up making it less secure by making it more centralized.
Early this year, when the debate on how to manage the meta-consensus issue of hard fork management arose I wrote an article about emergent consensus. This basically outlined the idea behind Bitcoin Unlimited‘s proposal of letting the network decide when it is collectively ready to move the block limit higher, and by what amount. At the time, I wrote that the issue was lack of good UX tools which would be able to track network participants (whether mining node, or regular full-node) votes and show them in real time. After all, emergent consensus can only work if there is a sufficient feedback loop so that the collective group decision making process can be facilitated, and overestimates and underestimates can be corrected. This is much like how a liquid market of bid/asks facilitates price discovery in every financial market since the beginning of human commerce. It is only by repeated and constant dogmatization of the block size limit as a ‘sacrosanct’ part of the protocol, has the proponents of a smaller block restricted Bitcoin been able to convince everyone that the limit cannot be changed, lest the network be subject to catastrophic attacks or instability.
We have all heard about the big problem of mining centralization in Bitcoin. The deep set fears that somehow, if left unchecked, the miners will collude to defraud the network, and sabotage the whole system, all in order to satiate their own lust for profit.
This is often used as a reason to employ [central planned policy here] or to change the protocol to incentivize some other (more acceptable) form of behaviour. Of all the ‘decentralization myths’ this one is the toughest to dispel; not because it is any more true than the other myths but because people have an inbuilt selection bias in that they often believe that a system not serving them directly must mean that system is broken, instead of realizing that they way they are interacting with the system may be at fault. Mining has always been a very liquid market in Bitcoin, and has gone through several phases or generations, and as each new era came to an end there were very loud proponents in the industry that wailed and warned that this new change would mark the end of the network and everything would break. Detractors said the same thing when mining moved from single CPUs to GPUs and experienced a 1000x increase in efficiency, then again when mining moved to FPGAs, and finally to custom ASICs. The industry has seen hashrates go from MH/s, to GH/s, to TH/s. That is a million times increase in just 7 years. Every time, the complainers were the ones that had some entrenched interest in the current model and stood to lose money or competitiveness. Maybe they had just bought 10 new Intel Xeon servers just to mine Bitcoins when some genius had the idea to move mining to GPUs. Or maybe they had just bought $200,000 of GPUs when the first ASICs were released, and were caught holding the bag. Needless to say, you can always identify the people who stand to lose something given a change by how loud they complain about it. (Hint: take note on which miners complain about mining centralization the most)
Easter weekend. Family reunions, liturgical services, fasting for some, feasting for others, a time for renewal, time to dispel some crypto myths!
Everyone talks about “going to the moon” in crypto but few if any really knows what that means. Cypherpunks care about privacy and censorship resistance, libertarians care about political ideology and businesses care about making money. But how many of them actually think through how to get there?
I don’t mean in a metaphoric sense, I mean pragmatically. What is the adoption roadmap? What do we mean by ‘moon’? Price? Resistance to government usurpation? Censorship resistance? Self sustaining system without any oversight?
True, most people who say “To the moon!” are just pumpers or speculators trying to incite a windfall profit from the penny stock altcoin that they purchased for the express purpose of dumping it for a profit on unsuspecting suckers. But let’s consider a moment the goal of Bitcoin –becoming a widely accepted alternate money to fiat currencies– how does Bitcoin get to there from where it is today? What challenges and obstacles must it overcome? What different stages of development and growth must it evolve through?
I have often observed that disagreements between smart people inevitably devolve into a difference of opinions based on assumptions which are either ignored by one or both sides or insufficiently proven, which leads to the construction of a belief system built on top of nothing more than reasonable guesses. Because of this, it takes a long time before one can peel away the layers of conditional truths before you reach the core assumptions over which the principle disagreement is erected upon. (one needs to look no further than the renewed flat earth movement to see how you can rewrite your entire belief system to support your theory). Over the last month as I have debated with the decentralists on the foundations of their “decentralization is the most important thing about Bitcoin”* argument, I believe I have finally discovered the crux of the dispute, the mistaken assumption, upon which all other conclusions are derived upon, the genesis block of the debate, if you will.
The problem comes from the fact that the term decentralization has been overloaded to mean so many different things. From topological point of view the old graphic from Paul Baran (1964) (inset right) may seem to provide a good enough definition but only from the perspective of a network topology which is certainly not the common usage of the term today. More recently some folks have improved upon the definition to more clearly indicate that it is the notion of control (the little puppet master hands in the diagram) of the network nodes that make them more or less decentralized.
The disagreements between the ‘big blockers’ and the ‘small blockers’ in Bitcoin are heating up. Bitcoin Classic is poised to release its first client to compete with Bitcoin Core, and Bitcoin Unlimited has had its first vote on its new feature set. It is a time of peril in the galaxy…
Now as the credits fade into the star field background picture a big wedge shaped Star Destroyer with the banner reading “Decentralization” filling the screen. This word is really the Battle Cry of most crypto-currencies, and as I have written in the past, it is so poorly understood.
Everyone wants it, but few know what it is
It is a repurposed term, that simply describes a quality of network topology, transformed into a rallying call of rebellion. The problem is that almost everyone that I read or encounter in the industry uses this term as a panacea for all the problems that they see in the world today, without actually knowing what it truly means. They believe it because of faith from authority, and through basic reasoning, that it is good and thus must be fought for without actually knowing why. This is dangerous, as this is how cults start. The Cult of Decentralization.
In this 2-part article, I have decided to address some of the very commonly spread myths in Bitcoin space, namely that of mining centralization, and its effects on the BTC price valuation. At the end of reading this I hope that you will have a better understanding of the complicated topic of decentralization in terms of economic factors, and also how everything is perfectly reflected in the BTC price. Also, I hope that you would have a new found appreciation that BTC price is going to continue to fluctuate wildly and even may go to zero, under certain certain scenarios.
But first, to the often repeated, and universally unsubstantiated claim: That Bitcoin is suffering from miner centralization. First off, I want to stave off all the thoughts that the proponents of this opinion are thinking now: “You must not have heard of this thing called the Great Firewall of China!”, “You must not understand what the propagation delays are and its affect on orphan rate!”, “You must not know about the mining relay network!”, or my favourite, “Maybe you haven’t heard, but they have this corrupt oppressive government over in China!”. Rest assured, I know, I have heard all the arguments, and I have well connected business associates in China.