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What is Bitcoin Maximalism?

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:50 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:50 PM

2016 has perhaps seen a proliferation of new schools of thought under the crypto-currency genre, particularly thanks to the best known of all cryptocoins: Bitcoin. Among the most recent: the notion of Bitcoin maximalism.

In short, Bitcoin maximalists look down upon alternative use cases outside the domain of Bitcoin; i.e. Ethereum, Litecoin, even your beloved Dogecoin.

A common thesis in this school of thoughts foresees a future of Bitcoin features, in which all of the things people want in a crypto-currency – for now, higher capacity and smart contracts – are coded atop the Bitcoin protocol. Soft forks have been executed in the Bitcoin use case before, and the experiment has momentum; that is, miners are interested in carrying on the tradition at high costs and expenses. Ethereum, furthermore, lots legitimacy over recent hacks.

In a video Bitcoin Uncensored  Chris DeRose said:

And it’s the only one that matters because block chains work. There’s a saying that we have here in South Florida and in our circle that because block chains work, miners are incentivised to join the longest chain. That’s going to be Bitcoin because of it’s fast mover advantage.

I don’t see that changing and if you look some of these other alt. coins and you look at some of these competitors and when you compare them in various terms transaction volume, power consumption etcetera, etcetera, the numbers are significantly lower to the degree of multiple levels of magnitude even. So I think that Bitcoin is definitely the most prosperous Coin and will remain so for these reasons.

Why is Bitcoin maximalism relevant now? If 2015 was the year of financial institutions entering into the blockchain space to investigate blockchain usefulness, perhaps 2016 has thus far been the year in which the community grappled with the notions of crowdsales and decentralized socio-political governance of a blockchain protocol. When Ethereum’s DAO was compromised and $56 million withdrawn, the project’s rhetoric – which it framed as informational work – was exposed as propagandistic.

Ethereum lead developer Vitalik Buterin addressed  the notion of Bitcoin Maximalism in 2016. He wrote:

[E]ssentially, the idea that an environment of multiple competing cryptocurrencies is undesirable, that it is wrong to launch “yet another coin”, and that it is both righteous and inevitable that the Bitcoin currency comes to take a monopoly position in the cryptocurrency scene. Note that this is distinct from a simple desire to support Bitcoin and make it better; such motivations are unquestionably beneficial and I personally continue to contribute to Bitcoin regularly via my python library pybitcointools .

Rather, it is a stance that building something on Bitcoin is the only correct way to do things, and that doing anything else is unethical (see this post  for a rather hostile example). Bitcoin maximalists often use “network effects” as an argument, and claim that it is futile to fight against them.

While Buterin tries to paint Bitcoin Maximalism as an ethical question – he states Bitcoin Maximalists believe it’s unethical to launch other blockchains – many so-called Bitcoin maximalism emphasizes cite economic arguments to bolster their case that, in the end, Bitcoin will persist and incentivize crypto-participants to use it over alternative crypto-currencies. In light of the DAO issues, this seems more prescient than ever – at least in terms of public blockchains.

That’s different from private blockchains. One thing Bitcoin Maximalism must address is what it sees as Bitcoin’s uses. It should also define itself as public blockchain specific, so as to not confuse public blockchains with private ones. While Bitcoin maximalism is radical, it’s nothing to shy away from. It’s merely a thesis that Bitcoin will persist.

Featured image from Shutterstock.