Bitcoin: Democracy and Debate

Brian Armstrong, founder and CEO of our portfolio company Coinbase, published two back to back posts yesterday on the dual topics of Bitcoin governance and the scaling Bitcoin debate.


I’d encourage everyone interested in Bitcoin to read these posts as they address two of the most important issues facing Bitcoin today; how Bitcoin is governed and how Bitcoin’s transaction processing power should be scaled from its current levels to Visa/PayPal levels over the next 5-10 years.

There are many reasons why Bitcoin is so interesting but for me the core reason is the decentralized nature of the technology and how it is designed to operate and evolve. Bitcoin is political in the sense that it has a belief system and that is that no one person or entity should control it.

What we are seeing right now is a test of that belief system and how Bitcoin answers this test will say a lot about its future. I happen to agree with Brian’s views on both topics and I am glad that Brian and Coinbase is stepping up and taking a vocal position on both.

#blockchain#hacking finance

Comments (Archived):

  1. Twain Twain

    Voting, rating, reputation mechanisms are fundamentally … BROKEN.This is the common problem across Blockchain-Bitcoin, product recommendations, financial ratings, content classification … and Machine Intelligence that would enable the algorithms to understand our meaning, values and beliefs.It’s the persistent problem that developers have been unable to solve because they tend to default to “What’s been done before” and echo chamber approaches … or gridlock.I’ll post some examples I photographed from the Ethereum developer conference in Nov 2015 which shows how, in some ways, Blockchain isn’t innovating but merely “reinventing the square wheel.”More than one banker I spoke with (who’s part of R3) agreed with me.If the bit itself is flawed, then scaling up only multiplies those flaws and system weaknesses.That’s the philosophical difference between Nakamoto’s approach and mine.

  2. pointsnfigures

    Interesting to read those. what is really interesting is the commonality with other systems. People are people. People act to maximize their own self interest. That’s not a bad thing, it’s core to our DNA. Each person perceives self interest differently and that’s why we have markets.The other really fascinating part that I had not thought of is that because Bitcoin is a piece of software, it has limitations. Paper money, or fiat currency doesn’t. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. A bitcoin isn’t necessarily a bitcoin depending on how its coded.This is also very instructive to see the level of centralization/decentralization the Bitcoin community will accept to grow.

    1. Twain Twain

      It’s the eternal debate between homogeneity and heterogeneity.The Blockchain-Bitcoin and other code standards have to be universal and yet allow for diversity within them, to foster consistent and self-sustaining innovation.Ditto for economic frameworks and models.

    2. LE

      Really good points. Paper money is like sex and hunger (or close to it). It’s a core human desire (I know that sounds strange) because of easy “disposability” and is universal as you say “with no limitations”. Especially US dollars.

  3. William Mougayar

    Solid arguments by Brian, and I’ve read both of articles. I’ve already been saying that the current situation is hurting Bitcoin’s progress. Despite taking a cavalier appearance that the process will take care of itself, 3 additional points are worth noting:1/ There are some actors that are gridlocking the evolution/scaling process, because there are too many engineers/scientists bickering on split hair arguments, and they are hijacking conversations and stalling votes indirectly with FUD. (the Chinese voters who control a large chunk of mining will not vote in the face of adversity- it’s a cultural thing)2/ I’d like to see the circle of stakeholders who can vote expanded beyond miners and nodes. The ecosystem is also comprised of businesses and level-headed experts now who can counter the engineers with some common sense. Therefore, I’d like to see a tilted governance that is part technical, part business oriented, so we can better resolve deadlocks and grease decisions while still allowing for voting. At least we’ll have more clarity, and less FUD.3/ I don’t believe that comparing Bitcoin transaction outputs to Visa’s are a sensible benchmark to compare against. At least, not now. It’s premature. Bitcoin’s mission is not to replace Visa or traditional banking. It’s a new alternative system that’s going to grow on its own merits and footprint. Let it walk it before it can run. Speed of validations may be more important than transactions per seconds. The blockchain behind Bitcoin is a State Transition mechanism. It’s not a transaction processing system. Let’s be careful when we give Bitcoin aspirations and expectations that it may never reach, or reach in a different way.In closing, the Bitcoin voting dilemma reminded me of this New Yorker political cartoon.

    1. Twain Twain

      Cavalier or laissez-faire?Blockchain needs a “Steve Jobs / Jack Welch” leader type and there don’t seem to be one of those in the community.Jobs was great at integrating seemingly disparate interests and disciplines.

      1. William Mougayar

        The analogy is more apt as a Linus Torvalds, a benevolent decision-maker of sorts. That analogy has been discussed, but there is no hope for such person to emerge in the Bitcoin space. If he/she were to come back, it would be no less than Satoshi Nakamoto.

        1. awaldstein

          What you describe as the Bitcoin space today may be completely irrelevant in 5 years.In fact it is almost mandatory if it is too be as successful as many are betting that it can be,Visionaries will certainly emerge. Just because it is too ingrained to come from the community today is really not relevant in the long term.

          1. William Mougayar

            Right. The ones at its core can only see what’s under their nose. Some of them have lost touch with what’s actually happening in the market, and what the market wants.

          2. awaldstein

            You are presuming that the market knows what they want.I doubt it.

          3. William Mougayar

            At least directionally the market gives an indication, and it must be supported by the core. Otherwise, the market can’t try things to their fullest extent.

          4. Twain Twain

            Steve Jobs famously had this Ford quote on his desk.That’s why it’s vital for Human Evolution that every generation has its inventors, artists, scientists and imagineers.

          5. JLM

            .’The market usually — usually, not always — knows what it wants when it arrives via Amazon until then, pfffffft.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          6. Twain Twain

            Haha, fantastic!

          7. awaldstein

            And it is always right.

          8. LE

            Afterwords the market is always right (assuming that the marketing was done correctly and the product works). Prior to product release the market is often wrong and simply wants a faster horse.

          9. Twain Twain

            At Ethereum DevCon it became clear that the ones in the core have lost touch with what’s happening in the market.They also haven’t learnt key lessons from market events in finance and in wider tech.

          10. William Mougayar

            Are you talking about the Bitcoin Core devs?

          11. Twain Twain

            Are you referring to Gavin Andresen, Cory Fields and Wladimir van der Laan?What’s interesting are the parallels between Blockchain-Bitcoin and AI: “Despite (Bitcoin) being the subject of more than $900m in venture capital investment, remains mired in governance considerations and philosophical debates…*…AI sector is going through similar philosophical wrestles wrt Ethical Governance, how IP works in an AI era (…, code standards and what Quantum Computing means.

        2. Twain Twain

          Agree, a Torvalds or an Alan Kay would be more like-for-like since Jobs didn’t code (as the Woz has pointed out).It’s unknown if Nakamoto would be able to re-write Ralph Merkle at an atomic level.The scaling problem is also here. As are the weaknesses that can get exploited / exposed by Quantum Computing.If Nakamoto’s out there, he better get his skates on and start re-scripting.

          1. LE

            Jobs didn’t code (as the Woz has pointed out).And what a big mistake it would have been for people to follow Woz’s vision rather than Jobs. Want a good example of what happens and what shit you get when coders are in charge? Microsoft. [1] Tech nerds can be good product and marketing people but typically they are not.[1] Can start with just the example of having the boot sequence visible to normals. Because tech people think it’s cool to see that so they assume everybody will like what is going on under the hood instead of the simplicity that was and is Apple.

          2. Twain Twain

            I know the problem of “when coders are in charge” well.Periodically, I’ve gone to hackathons where I didn’t share that I also code. Male developers often assumed I’m “business / marketing” and then they proceeded to want to code some app they thought was technically “cool” but that didn’t solve any market product problem and/or have market utility and appeal.There have been MSc, PhDs in CS who’ve drawn up complex schemas (not unlike Blockchain #hash trees) and thrown their egos (what they think is leadership) around, trying to get the team to code what they think is “cool”.Let’s just say that when I finally show my hands and knowhow … my team WINS A PRIZE at the hackathon by delivering the most useful MVP and it’s not the product that the coder, who thinks he’s in charge, thinks up.[@wmoug:disqus — This is why it’s not surprising to hear “There are a few too many hot headed smart engineers that each want to pull it in a different direction, while not realizing that their excessive bickering is damaging to the whole.”Engineers can be arrogant because some have the mindset of “Without us … Little gets executed and built. We’re the ones that solve problems, make the code run and the systems work.”Also, I understand what you mean by the need for Satoshi Nakamoto to re-emerge (I’ve nicknamed him “Satamoto,” by the way).He’d have the moral authority to get things back on track.]

    2. pointsnfigures

      I think your 3rd point is interesting and the community ought to think hard about it. If they are just replicating or trying to replace Visa-or becoming Visa-like, then they are just ankle biters. Create something totally different and the debate might be different.

      1. Twain Twain

        THIS: “Create something totally different and the debate might be different.”And much more interesting for making global systems more intelligent and moving us forward.

      2. awaldstein

        So building a new platform with a different point of view that has the capabilities of disrupting the CC dinosaurs plus open up new markets is ankle biting?You folks in Chicago and Toronto dance to very different drummers than us New Yorkers!

        1. LE

          CC dinosaursA good stable system that actually works very well. [1] Now if someone wants to figure out a way to make FICO work better that would be great (or college rankings).[1] Make a charge and 30 seconds later I get notified (for security purposes my choice) of the charge on my Apple Watch. Plus I get 2% cash back on every purchase paid for by somebody else (who doesn’t get 2%).

          1. awaldstein

            You are saying that investors don’t believe that this will get disrupted but Bitcoin?Of course they do,

          2. LE

            I didn’t say that. I said “a good stable system that actually works very well” in reply to you calling them “cc dinosaurs”. That’s all.

          3. SubstrateUndertow

            “A good stable system that actually works very well.”FOR WHOM ?

          4. LE

            Well as both a consumer (and a merchant) to me it works very well. Ditto for the local pizza shop and most online merchants. And offers significant consumer protections against fraud. Plus 2% cash back on many cards which don’t even cost anything.The credit card processing fee is well worth not having to do accounts receivable for a typical business. In fact it’s almost a bargain even with the chargebacks.

          5. SubstrateUndertow

            They make their serious money on excessive credit charges and yes you are right if you assume that blockchain-tech will not, in the long run, colonize that credit-space but colonization always gravitates towards the richest available food chain.

        2. pointsnfigures

          HA. My point is riffing off William’s idea that Bitcoin is much more than a payment system. In all the posts I have read, they are looking at payment systems like Visa etc. That line of thinking is too narrow. It needs to be principles based. Fodder for a blog post for me.

          1. JLM

            .Visa, et al, are not going to stand still.The other day, I paid for a McDonald’s with a credit card, a Visa. It took less than 2 seconds to approve the hand swiped transaction.And, we can’t figure immigration out? Give them all Visa cards and let McDonald’s run the system.The Visas of the world are not going to be sitting on their asses failing to defend their franchises.Remember also, they are CREDIT cards. CREDIT is their first value proposition.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. LE

            Did you notice how those chip cards are a pain and have put friction in the cc process? Transactions take way longer “please do not remove card” than just swiping at those new terminals where they typically won’t let you just swipe.

          3. JLM

            .Yes, I have had enormous problems with mine from USAA. All security related. I had some fraud when I was on the east coast and couldn’t get a new card while I was 1,000 miles + from home. A major league pain in the butt.OTOH, they work the exact same at McDonald’s.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          4. LE

            Hey let me ask you this. Does USAA raise your homeowners insurance every year? I have Liberty Mutual and for the past several years they’ve raised rates 10% each year. Are you getting that with USAA as well? I expect increases (with all of the storms every time there is a major event I think BOGU) but this has gone on for at least the last 4 renewals (might have been longer but that’s when I began to notice).They were doing the same with my auto but when I complained and got competitive quotes they were quick to put me on their new “program” which literally chopped my auto rates in half!The problem is I am wrapped into Liberty for a bunch of non business things and of course friction and FUD in switching insurance companies.

          5. JLM

            .You have to be a vet or son of a USAA member to join. They are a mutual so you get a check back every year and if you’re over a certain age or length of time w/ them you get another check.I have shopped them repeatedly and never found anyone cheaper for my type of insurance.I had a couple of big claims — wife mugged and robbed of her big diamond in London at Wimbledon — and they paid like a champ. Water damage, extensive, at a lake house and a home under renovation.I would name my next kid after them. Damn good on technology and can find a human 24/7. Runs like the Pentagon. All ex-generals.They are a bank, brokerage, buying service, travel, credit card, insurance company. Have a great auto buying service.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          6. William Mougayar

            “It took less than 2 seconds to approve the hand swiped transaction.”Right, because their risk was at stake, and they cleared that transaction in 2 seconds and charged your card immediately. You’re on the hook to pay it 3 seconds after you charged it. BUT when it comes to you paying a bill or writing a check, that can take days to clear, because Your risk is at stake, and the banks don’t care about that. They will bounce your check and charge you $40 (or whatever) because they can’t clear your transactions in real time and not let you write that check if you don’t have funds. Why? There is no good answer for that.Well, the blockchain can fix that, and put clearing and settlements on a level playing field for all- consumers and businesses alike. Which means if you send me money, I get it in 1-10 min. Bitcoin can do that, today, now. No waiting for billions of dollars in network upgrades and other monopoly schemes.

          7. JLM

            .Ummm, Wm, I was making a point about immigration that had nothing to do with bitcoin. Sometimes, folks conduct entire conversations without mentioning bitcoin.Nonetheless, bitcoin is hopelessly slower than Visa right now. Not even close.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          8. William Mougayar

            For paying at a merchant, it might be clunky still, and I agree.But for sending money between 2 people without leaving where you’re sitting, nothing comes close to Bitcoin’s speed, low cost and convenience.

          9. JLM

            .Dollars to bitcoin, transfer, bitcoin to dollars v direct wire or PayPal?I pay nothing for a wire from USAA, WFB, Schwab, Vanguard — nothing.I have a trusted third party to confirm the transaction. If anything goes wrong, I have someone to call and they figure it out.Who do I call if Bitcoin misfires?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          10. LE

            Wow I just setup a Schwab account (already had a Vanguard) and didn’t even know you could do wires at no charge nice.

          11. JLM

            .Vanguard is stuck in the last century but WFB, USAA, Schwab are on the cutting edge. Make sure that you know your security questions. Cause they don’t tell you if you get one wrong.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          12. LE

            My older sister worked for Vanguard for many years. She sort of headed up some communications group or something like that when she left not sure exactly how important of a job though. Anyway they would obsess over that fucking ship logo. Would come down hard on any printing or printers that didn’t print it perfectly and bounce jobs. Was bred into the organization and in some cases was pretty stupid.I don’t use true security question and answers so it’s not something I memorize. In almost all cases a company using (especially a financial company) questions like “school you attended” or “favorite food” allow easy social engineering of your account. And if someone hacks the accounts at the company then of course your info is available to consult for further breakins.

          13. pointsnfigures

            TD Ameritrade is the same. Plus their TOS platforms is really good. If you want to check out an interesting options trading platform see

          14. William Mougayar

            You are lucky to be in the 1% that have such account privileges, but most people don’t.Bitcoin transactions are pretty safe. Millions are being sent/received daily. The exchange where you hold your account could help you if something goes wrong, but the beauty of Bitcoin is that it is self-checking. Computers and computations don’t fail. It’s when humans interfere that sometimes we have failures. Have you tried to send a wire transfer where the address is in a foreign country and quite complicated? If you misspell a word, then you’re in trace hell. Once your Bitcoin is connected to your bank account, you can do conversions and convert bitcoins received to your account in dollars or vice versa.It’s similar to one of those things like they talk about in high school. You’ve got to try it and stop talking about it. Get a Coinbase account and stop being a Bitcoin virgin.

          15. JLM

            .”pretty safe” — now there’s a confidence builder, no?Bitcoin has disappeared from such accounts, no?No money has ever disappeared from my accounts, thus far. Knock on wood.How dare you call me a bitcoin virgin? I am not a bitcoin slut but neither am I a bitcoin virgin.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          16. William Mougayar

            well, when you get a Bitcoin account, let me know, and i’ll stop calling you that :)no bitcoins have disappeared from accounts in reputable exchanges or your own wallets.

          17. JLM

            .Bitcoint/bullshit meter clanging a little hard this morning. Read this, please.…Really?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          18. Twain Twain

            Sorry, William, but your comment “Computers and computations don’t fail” is wide off the mark.”As the current financial crisis spreads (like a computer virus) on the earth’s nervous system (the Internet), it’s worth asking if we have somehow managed to colossally outsmart ourselves using computers. After all, the Wall Street titans loved swaps and derivatives because they were totally unregulated by humans. That left nobody but the machines in charge.”*…Nakamoto and others may like to argue that the rationalism of the machines makes them more reliable and intelligent than humans but that IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.If anything, it was the computers and their computations that FAILED us during the last crisis and amidst the autopsy, including by World Economic Forum, no one examined those fundamental system flaws with the computations.One of the problems with computers, especially when multiplier network effects kick in, is that an erroneous code SCALES UP INTO SYSTEMATIC ERRORS.So when one derivative equation goes awry as the code paths down its probability tree, it can trigger all sorts of other computational failures.Humans may not be able to calculate at the volumes and speeds that computers do but, even something as simple as common sense, can stop us putting things at risk in ways the machines can’t do.@jlm, @le, @pointsandfigures, @sigmalgebra.

          19. William Mougayar

            That pertained to bitcoin validating transactions. it’s a rather self-contained process and it works.

          20. Twain Twain

            Thanks for clarifying.My view on the machines is that should ALWAYS be a form of human governance in their processes. There have been philosophical arguments to the effect that they can self-regulate, be self-contained and aren’t subject to the same errors as humans — so can be “trusted”.The validation tests for Bitcoin aren’t sizeable enough to conclude that they can replace existing Clearing & Settlements, payments and other systems and be trusted to self-regulate.There are all sorts of paradoxes involved. On the one hand, Nakamoto argues for decentralization to avoid economic interests being concentrated in hands of elite clique (central banks, banks, big co).On the other, there’s an argument that we should instead trust the elite of mining engineers instead.

          21. Sebastian Wain

            Why nobody here is mentioning the micropayment channels approach for faster bitcoin transactions? Several people in this thread know about it.

          22. SubstrateUndertow

            Your McdDonald’s comment get up voted for is comedic perspective :-)I am sure Visa et al will defend their franchises but ultimately that means decreasing their pricing umbrella before and not-after the disruption starts to bite and incumbents in general have a very poor track record at that type proactive defence.

          23. JLM

            .What has to be reckoned with is the CREDIT aspect of credit cards. Jamming down transaction fees is not going to cut the mustard if there is no credit.Our economy is driven by credit. Go see The Big Short — credit failure. [Great flic, read the review here.]http://themusingsofthebigre…Any replacement for Visa is going to have to address the instant gratification, living from the next paycheck aspect of CREDIT.Bitcoin is silent on that matter and until it is addressed, the price of credit will be part of the transaction fee.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          24. LE

            Exactly. Credit and of course “convenience”.You know I had an entrepreneur that I did some work for that I had to bill for something. I knew the final cost would be above what they were expecting (but of course it was well deserved). How did I get by the shock that they were almost sure to experience? I told them that I would charge their credit card in 10 payments automatically and sent them the signoff. (Wasn’t ever the arrangement btw it’s all COD). They no longer were in shock they were able to kick the can down the road. As it happened for tax purposes I also didn’t want the money in 2015 as an added bonus.Now of course I could have made the same deal w/o credit cards by saying “so then you will wire or ach me the money” or “so send me a check” or perhaps even “so you will send me bitcoins”. But each of those alternatives means I am depending on them. Because AFAIK bitcoin is push (duh) as are the other alternatives except for ACH but I am not currently setup to do that type of thing (pull). Plus credit cards (to your point) allowed the runwayless entrepreneur to then payout the cc company. If they ach/wire to me or if I pull from them they are spending their cash.So in short I got more money because I was able to lessen the shock then if I had to get all of the money NOW and more safety then depending on them to actually send me the money.Of course people who have never run a business probably think that checks are actually in the mail when they are told they are in the mail. Those are the people who probably go to the car dealer and answer the question “how much do you want to spend per month on your car what do you want your payment to be?”

          25. SubstrateUndertow

            Bitcoin is silent on that matter and until it is addressed, the price of credit will be part of the transaction fee.I agree with you more than you agree with yourself :-)But I make the assumption that blockchain-tech will, in the long run, colonize that credit-space because colonization always gravitates towards the richest available food chain.

          26. awaldstein

            Bitcoin discussions make some of the smartest people I know forget how to keep things simple.I understand what you and William are saying.But whether something is transactional or a state based platform is not relevant at a high level to the question of whether bitcoin is disruptive potentially to the cc business.

          27. Twain Twain

            They looked at payments systems first because Satoshi Nakamoto’s original white paper oriented them in that direction.

          28. Twain Twain

            Looking forward to your blog post on this because I agree with you about the need to make it principles-based and will learn a lot from your insights.

    3. Twain Twain

      Brian Armstrong should read Steve Jurvetson’s views on Rose’s Law to see how it compares with Moore’s Law and because it affects scaling block sizes.*

  4. kidmercury

    it’s not really democracy that is proposed, but rather anarchy. under what is suggested, those with the most hashing power have the most control. it is a “might makes right” system.forks push us closer to private chains being the dominant framework, though, which i think is directionally correct.

    1. Twain Twain

      You mean this sentence of Brian Armstrong’s: “Competing forks with voting based on hashing power is a brilliant innovation that matches well with bitcoin’s ideology. We shouldn’t need to use this all the time, but it is a valuable tool that ensure bitcoin’s future. Voting will serve us far better than endless discussion hoping for consensus. Once the world sees that this elegant feature of bitcoin is a strength, not a weakness, it will help the bitcoin price grow over time.”The Chinese currently have the hashing power.Now … let’s bear in mind the brouhaha in global markets that happens when the Chinese ask that currency prices aren’t pegged against the dollar and yet, ironically, they’d be setting the standard for Bitcoin prices because they have the most hashing power and therefore more of the miners’ votes.@wmoug:disqus — it’s all these things that make me wonder if Blockchain-Bitcoin is a coherent economic paradigm or if it’s the same old-same old story of “Size and quantity are the only things that count.”

  5. JLM

    .In much the same way that no revolution ever started on a full stomach, changes do not emanate directly from votes.Changes may BEGIN with votes and therein lies the problem.To get to a vote, there must be leadership to frame and champion the question. This is why a representative republic (wherein the people vote not for laws but for representatives to make laws for them) is a better system than true democracy.The Founding Fathers recognized this with the way they ensured that the Senate (two Senators per state regardless of the size of the state) was a check and balance on the unruly House which was infinitely more democratic.But, then they gave the House the exclusive right to initiate all spending bills — something we should respect a bit more. They gave the power of the purse to the most democratic institution in the government.What is missing with Bitcoin/Blockchain is both its greatest curse and its greatest blessing. It is too damn democratic and has no acknowledged leader.The democracy of the blockchain for its operations is a blessing. The same blessing becomes a horned devil curse when it comes to getting things done. The miners want to mine not vote.Even when the US engages in a bloody Presidential election and the winner is anointed by a slim majority in the Electoral College, he gets to govern ALL the voters. He is elected by a small majority but governs his supporters and his opponents.There is, essentially, nobody in charge of Bitcoin/Blockchain. Until there is, there cannot be a consensus. You cannot enact leadership by the mob. You can throw a great party but when the party is over and everyone is drunk — nothing has really been accomplished.This may well be the death knell of Bitcoin (which may be in the ICU) and Blockchain (which is looking a big puny).JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. LE

      So explain to me then how bitcoin is any different than what happens with FOSS which seems to work fine under a “nobody in charge” model? [1][1] Open source software.

      1. William Mougayar

        That decentralized model of governance is part of the fabric of Bitcoin, and you will get a lot of push-back trying to change it.It is difficult to compare to how a real democracy works. The closest would be the open source process, which works when collaboration contributes to advancing the state of technology, for everybody.I would agree with you that this has gotten a little disorganized, i.e. too much sausage making is in the wild, and that is scaring some people that aren’t used to seeing that. There are a few too many hot headed smart engineers that each want to pull it in a different direction, while not realizing that their excessive bickering is damaging to the whole. Debates and analysis have a limit. There was a joke that – at some point you need to shoot the engineers to get the product out.That said, this ending sentence by Fred is very telling, and is what is actually happening; “What we are seeing right now is a test of that belief system and how Bitcoin answers this test will say a lot about its future.”An extreme form of decentralized innovation is being tested from the ground-up. Let’s see what we learn from that process.

        1. LE

          There are a few too many hot headed smart engineers that each want to pull it in a different directionPower corrupts. People previously not in power will always end up grabbing whatever new power they have and be disagreeable in order to wield that power. This happens not only with politicians but also on the local school board. Happens in companies as well, right? In other words people do this (just like a dog licking his balls) because they can and it makes them feel good. Not because it makes sense or is good for the people or the community.

          1. William Mougayar

            Gavin Andresen once said: put 10 engineers in a room, and you’ll get 11 solutions.

          2. JLM

            .Those are some lazy engineers. Normally that many engineers will arrive at way more solutions than that.I am an engineer. A very civil engineer but still an engineer.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. LE

            Not an expert but I think in software there are probably many more ways to do something “build the bridge” than in civil engineering. (On software I am right I just don’t know about civil engineering obviously).An example is when I write something that I end up using that is perfectly acceptable to get the job done (it works and it’s fast) but when someone who is super technical sees the code they start to pick it apart and suggest a better ritually correct way to do the exact same thing that really doesn’t matter to me. They perseverate over minutia in other words. In other words to much of “don’t do that do this”.

          4. LE

            I can fully understand why the banks and financial institutions want to do their own thing with all of this. It makes practical business sense because having 10 engineers that don’t have any accountability is simply to much of a risk to hang your business and viability on. The web is now at a point where “grownups” are in charge. Back when it wasn’t we saw (for various reasons obviously) much less commerce going on.I have a piece of FOSS (wiki software) that I have used probably since 2002 or 2003. It’s great one of the best things I ever installed. Recently I wanted to make some modifications to it so I visited the website and wrote to someone listed on a page of consultants. I got replied to directly by the founder of the project. He would do the changes for me directly and quoted me a relatively cheap price. I would have paid more. What I found after a search was that the other engineers forked off their own version because they had a disagreement with the founder (several years ago I had missed it). Good thing I wasn’t basing my business on this software (or I’d have to figure out a way to migrate to the version that the engineers were offering and hope that they didn’t fork that at some point..) Of course there are risks with non Foss as well but in general IBM did support what it sold pretty well.When I raised this story with someone I knew (who is very technical and works at a large consulting corporation) you know they suggested I try using the Atlassian software instead!

          5. William Mougayar

            Yup. that’s the reality of things.

        2. JLM

          .Whoa, I am not trying to change anything nor am I suggesting it needs or requires changing. I am simply diagnosing the patient.If the patient wants to continue to eat cheeseburgers and donuts with sugary drinks, that is the patient’s deal. Not mine.You simply confirm the diagnosis.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. William Mougayar

            ah, i was using ‘you’ generically. i should have said y’all to make it more clear 🙂

        3. PhilipSugar

          Interesting debate. My third point of management is getting people to do 10% of the shit they don’t want to do. That has always been the problem with open source. Nobody wants to do the really shitty stuff (example: write print drivers or make a pretty interface) I completely agree that it should not be looked at as how to replace Visa, Mastercard, etc, rather how to replace transactions in general.That is VERY powerful. That is more powerful than the internet in China (which has changed everything), that the U.S. government would and is very afraid.I would love to talk to you about this, because I think you and Fred know much more than I do, but I sense a big opportunity.

          1. LE

            My third point of management is getting people to do 10% of the shit they don’t want to do.So how do you get them to do that?

          2. PhilipSugar

            Make them do that or fire them.

          3. LE

            Serious question does that work with millennials and people who work for “startups”?For that matter does it even work with primadonnas?

          4. PhilipSugar

            Last time I looked there is a person signing the front of checks and the person signing the back of checks. (figuratively)I don’t give a fuck about millennials or prima donnas. I love working with both.But do not tell me I need to figure out how to work with them. They need to figure out how to work with me.

          5. William Mougayar

            When are you next in Toronto? or email and we’ll talk on the good old telephone.

      2. William Mougayar

        The difference is the part of the evolution they are in. It’s more messy at the beginning. You got to put the train on the rails before it start moving.

        1. JLM

          .You have to construct the rails first which means you have to have a clear starting and end point.Great analogy.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Twain Twain

            EXACTLY. Construct the wrong type of rails and the train doesn’t get far at all.It’s like if you want to build a Pyramid that’s going to be a different base from when you want to build the Pantheon.Have a good clear idea of the end product.

          2. JLM

            .One thing I learned as a developer is that building stuff requires you to master the building process not to know why buildings stand up and don’t fall down.You hire all that expertise while you control the building process.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. Twain Twain

            Mastery needs persistent practice, planning and discipline.Your comment, “The doers have a big advantage, they know how hard it really is to get stuff done” is very very true.

          4. SubstrateUndertow

            Does that apply to cellular evolution ?So you are an intelligent design advocate ?Or do you adhere to some form of non-deity based teleology ?

          5. Twain Twain

            On cellular evolution because it does have links to AI …The most vociferous philosophical arguments have been between Noam Chomsky and Peter Norvig, whose book for AI has been a blueprint for a generation of researchers:* 2011 Chomsky on ‘Unthinking Machines’ — http://www.technologyreview…* 2011 Norvig’s rebuttal to Chomsky —'s my view on the cells vs cubes argument.

      3. JLM

        .The fact that you have to explain what FOSS is probably answers that question. Nothing BIG ever got done without leadership.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. LE

          Hah good one actually. You are right I wouldn’t have given a link to Angelina Jolie. I only give links to further clarify things (or to break up what I am saying) or when I feel something isn’t 90% ubiquitous. [1][1] http://dictionary.reference

    2. SubstrateUndertow

      Very tempted to agree with this !Still we have 10 trillion cells in our bodies not one of which is in charge of being me or you ?Such non-trivial-causal-spread does seem like unattainable self-organizing magic, but there it is, accomplished by 10 trillion cells not one of whom even recognize they are participants in that globally coherent magic.If simple cells can master that self organizing gradient maybe we can too ? ? ?File under: taken to extreme 🙂

  6. harris497

    I find Brian’s statement, “The number of votes each miner gets is proportional to the amount of computational power they are adding to the network (so votes can’t be faked).” interesting and a bit naive. As the pools of miners grow in size due to consolidation, these miners grow in power/ability to influence the outcome. Smaller miners are joining larger pools at an increasing rate, therefore the democratic process is and will continue to become influenced by fewer and fewer self interested individuals. The system’s well being will be subverted to the well being of the larger (commercially interested) pools and democracy will suffer.Votes cannot be faked, but they can be bought…

    1. pointsnfigures

      Welcome to Chicago. ha. Yes, we assume that each entity acts in its own economic interest.

  7. Douglas Crets

    For me, the core argument about the bitcoin belief system is that it seems a very large camp of people think that the very structure of bitcoin and its decentralized system is engineered to defeat human propensity towards distrust and risk. But I don’t see how anything that stores value or is used as an exchange of value (for goods or services) can ever escape human behavior. There seems to be a belief — as I read it with my amateurish perspective — that algorithms and transparency augmented by math will eliminate any manipulation of this virtual currency and thereby stabilize world financial systems. I don’t know if I read that right, but if I do, then I don’t see how that ever happens. One might argue philosophically that its the inherent human characteristics of risk, distrust / trust that actually gives finance systems their ability to create value.

  8. BitcoinStarter

    It is good to see a healthy debate like this . Bitcoin wins out .

  9. ZekeV

    I agree with Coinbase chief engineer Charlie Lee that some caution is advised in seeking protocol changes through hard fork. I disagree with him, the rest of Coinbase, and its investors, that bitcoin “adoption” (read: widespread use for consumer payments) is necessary for Coinbase, or that it will even occur. There is a real opportunity to become a wallet and exchange wrapping multiple digital assets, with a conduit to $. If Coinbase had to turn a profit today, that’s where they would have to look in order to make it — exchange fees, wallet service fees. I doubt that they could make a profit solely off payment transaction fees today, and (being intentionally provocative here) I don’t think Coinbase will *ever* make a significant profit from payment fees / interchange.

  10. DJL

    I’ll try to make this simple: The blockchain has huge potential for security in the corporate world. But as long as the price of “coins” fluctuates and is not controlled by anyone the corporate applications will never take off. I personally think it is a shame to essentially limit an awesome technology that could generate billions in the market by clinging to an ideology. But that is what makes me a shameless Capitalist.If there are startups creating parallel blocks/coins for the corporate world please let me know. I am probably just not aware of them.

  11. Ray Youssef

    It is great to see real leadership in action.Bitcoin needs more leaders willing to take a stand and take the heat. Many of the merchants we work with are already hitting their limit and they are mulling over alt coins to raise that ceiling. If they add those coins then we shall have to add support for those alt coins as well.While options are usually a good thing in this case it is not. Why further complicate things and set cryptocurrency back? Any momentum taken away from bitcoin, a puny 4 billion dollar economy, hurts cryptocurrency as a whole. Creating a liquid vendor base for a new crypto currency is also a huge task. We shall have to do this however as it is being driven by the merchants and their desire for more revenue and transactions.In the end a block-size increase it is the only sane choice. Business problems should drive development. If development tries to define business then the result is always failure, just ask any startup founder. I hope the core devs see this. I think they do and as both Coinbase and Paxful are under constant DDOS I think there are other factors at play.The more leadership the better.

  12. jason wright

    it’s of interest to me that 21 Inc already has 3% of total hash. drop the price and it becomes a player.a mobile chip on a cheap android smartphone that mines in the background….well, isn’t that the first killer app?i wonder what will happen to miners after the halving of the reward later this year?

  13. MartinEdic

    I would like to suggest, for 2016, that all proponents of Bitcoin agree to stop talking in this arcane insider lingo and simply explain your thoughts in plain English. If you want broad acceptance, this is essential. I’m pretty savvy and I have no idea what you are talking about. This is marketing 101. And yes, I know, geeks don’t like marketing. But tech marketing is what I do and clear communication is critical to the success of any endeavor.

  14. Mark

    It’s a damn shame. This is not a debate so much as people are shouting past each other.I am a bitcoin believer, but I diversified into Ethereum, and increased my ETH holdings as a result of these developments. Ethereum has leadership that isn’t missing the forest for the trees.Bitcoin cannot afford the friction and delay that results from SW and LN. There are other solutions, and if you take away bitcoin’s first mover advantage, it would not fair well against the competition.Coinbase might consider diversifying. Due to network effects, a successful token is going to be succeed as rails well before it does as currency. The Core Devs have put the cart before the horse.

  15. Simon Levene

    My over-arching view on Bitcoin governance is that Satoshi’s design did not anticipate the development of human political systems and their frailties (for example: mining pools) … In this respect, perhaps he was a better computer scientist than social scientistThat is not to say that the design process he came up with was broken (for example: there are very strong economic incentives to avoid the 51% problem), but the idealistic Athenian polis model of 1 citizen = 1 vote when applied to blockchain mining could become problematic, if early on in its development a non-economic actor (sponsored by a recalcitrant government, say) decides to rock up and spoil the partyThat aside, what does “voting on” code upgrades and forks to the (mining) majority mean today? Unlike the Athenian polis where a lottery was used to determine the executive leadership, in the world of Bitcoin, miners seem to defer to a modern-day “meritocracy” of 10-20+ Bitcoin core devs. It’s meritocratic because these folks are tacitly recognized (by their peers — the community itself) for their significant contributions. For an emergent platform that only a small number of people on the planet holistically understand, that is probably the best we have for now — provided these folks can work out the thorny questions between themselves… which, turning to Brian’s post, it seems that for the most part, they canIn the past weeks, Bitcoin Core has been reaching consensus on Blockstream CTO Greg Maxwell’s capacity roadmap for Bitcoin…has more. And there is an FAQ to explain what steps are happening and how ecosystemcompanies can work to upgrade faster:…For sure, Bitcoin Core still has work to do to improve its communications andimprove channels of communication with company CTOs/Architects/SeniorDevelopersBut both as a matter of substance and of form, i support their reasoned arguments (and overall caution wrt the fundamental security of the platform) over those advocating an immediate hard fork

  16. Eric Chung

    I may be understanding this wrong because I don’t know enough but number of votes based on computational power doesn’t sound like decentralization. Aren’t the people with more wealth to buy the best/most servers, etc going to have the highest computational power and the strongest influence?

  17. KurtB

    lol. I am not scaling. We are not after Visa and Paypal, we are after the FED and the ECB.Hard fork = attack;This attack can be legitimate only if a 100% consensus is reached – ex post facto. (over my dead body)

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