How Does Bitcoin Reach a Decision?

Some 70% of miners have now made a decision on whether to support segregated witnesses (segwit) or Bitcoin Unlimited, a proposal which simply increases the blocksize as set by nodes and miners. It’s not clear what the other 30% of miners are waiting for, but it will be interesting to see what they do decide once they get around to exercising their duty.

If all go for segwit, it would give the proposal some 60%. Far off from a 95% threshold usually used, but that was always unrealistic in any, even slightly, contentious setting. It’s not too far from 75%, but conceptually, if segwit does reach 60%, it would be reasonable to say after lengthy debate a decision has been made and thus should be supported regardless of views.

If all of the 30% instead support Bitcoin Unlimited, the client would gain some 70% of the hashrate. Not far from 75% and, again, regardless of views, after so much debate one has no choice, but to accept the decision of what would be an overwhelming majority.

In either case, both sides might dispute the end decision, but intellectually, they would have no standing nor any persuasive power for they would look no different than the “not my president” protestors who thought they can create their own fictitious reality.

The 51%

It’s unlikely all of the remaining 30% would decide in favor of just one proposal. If we split them in half, that would give segwit 47% while Bitcoin Unlimited would have around 53%. A very tight result, but, a potential outcome within predictable range as the matter is contentious.

The question now rises whether the 47% should accept the decision of the 53% or whether they should split? If they do split, which one is to be called bitcoin? If, instead, they decide to not solve the problem at all, in effect rejecting both proposals, due to the fear of a split and its potential ensuing chaos, then what is the wider public to think of an expensive and slow bitcoin that can’t solve its problems?

Rationally, the name bitcoin should go to the chain with 53% of the hashrate since bitcoin relies on the honesty of 51% of miners. If the matter is so contentious, then at least some of the 47% will probably split, which is their right. However, they need to differentiate themselves, but what if they don’t, what if they call themselves bitcoin?

Bitcoin Norms

Here, the persuasive power of conventions and norms usually assists. Just as the “not my president” protestors, they can call themselves bitcoin, but no one should take them seriously because, objectively, bitcoin is the chain with more than 51% of miners unless such miners are objectively acting maliciously which clearly is not the case in this scalability debate where a genuine disagreement of opinion exists.

The “not my president” protestors can, of course, go to California and declare independence, but they obviously won’t be able to call California as USA. Likewise, the minority has the right to split without requiring any permission, but they can’t call themselves bitcoin. They can call themselves Bitcoin Core, or BCC; or Bitcoin Unlimited with ticker BTU, depending on which one is minority with the majority one remaining as bitcoin or BTC.

Norms and conventions are not easily enforceable, but they have power because non-adherence leads to chaos. If the president, for example, does not uphold a judicial ruling, he risks revolution.

Likewise, if some exchanges call a minority chain as bitcoin, then the entire currency is put into question, risking its complete downfall, not to mention the ensuing chaos.

As such, adhering to simple norms and conventions would be in the interest of everyone, including the minority chain, which can happily operate on its own network and fairly compete in the market, instead of risking its own downfall and that of bitcoin.

The 30% of miners who have not decided, therefore, should get on with it. After now two years of endless arguing, and after some 70% have decided, there is no excuse for the other miners to keep sitting on the fence.

Just signal for segwit or Bitcoin Unlimited and let’s end this constant arguing, stagnation, transaction delays, increased fees, etc.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely that of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to

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Last modified: May 21, 2020 9:55 AM UTC

April 22, 2017 4:02 PM UTC
Posted in: ArchiveOp-ed
Andrew Quentson @Aquentson

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