What the Block Size Debate Says About Bitcoin

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If you’re out of the loop regarding Bitcoin, something of an existential crisis is happening among the folks responsible for determining the future of Bitcoin as a technology. Coming from Gavin Andresen, core developer for Bitcoin and chief data scientist of the Bitcoin Foundation, the announcement that he intended to pursue an increase to the size of blocks from the current 1MB limit is a significant alteration to the status quo. What size Andresen is proposing is not yet clear, but 20MB is being kicked around several reputable locations and the proposed 20MB size is widely paired with some form of yearly increase to prevent future issues with block size. This change to the foundation of Bitcoin has been met with severe criticism.

Among the voices raising objections is Peter Todd, a prominent developer in the digital currency sphere, and chief scientist of Viacoin. If you’re asking what Viacoin is, it was a much-hyped altcoin which ran a very successful pre-mine IPO, promising to offer rapid innovation and receptive developers, unlike the perceived lack of development occurring on Bitcoin core. It then went basically nowhere. Peter Todd is joined in decrying Andresen’s announcement by Gregory Maxwell, who suggested that the Bitcoin community was on its way to “committing suicide” by choosing the BitcoinXT option. Adding weight to the objections of notable figures is the symphony of differing opinions sounding off on places like Reddit and BitcoinTalk on the future of Bitcoin, what the size of blocks means, and who should be implementing changes. It is a startlingly disharmonious moment for a community that has often been practically unanimous in advancing the cause of Bitcoin.

What Bitcoin appears to need, with no lack of irony, is centralized leadership. There is no clean answer to how Bitcoin moves forward, and the decentralized currency is sorely in need of centralized decision-making by individuals with clear plans forward. Bitcoin has become a valuable commodity, both as an asset that holds value and as a technology. The hurdles facing Bitcoin in the future may be answered by innovation from the dedicated community that supports and uses Bitcoin, but not unless some kind of consensus can be formed. If it weren’t for the thousands of online denizens who categorically assert that Bitcoin is disrupting the status quo and is a boon to folks espousing anarcho-capitalist, libertarian, anarchist, and other fringe economic ideologies, it would sure seem to an outside observer that Bitcoin is facing the same challenges as those faced by a young tech company; a corporation. To rehash, a potentially disruptive technology developed and maintained by talented tech folks, marketed, often virally, by users who stand to gain monetarily from the success of the technology, backed by deep-pocketed investors in various ways, and sold through various outlets from inception to end-user. Let’s see, that’s an IT department, marketing, sales, investors…all that’s missing is a boardroom of seasoned professionals tasked with long-term vision, you know, CEO types.

So what does that say about Bitcoin? Without diving too deeply into political or ideological arguments, perhaps Bitcoin isn’t as far removed from all those evil corporations and governments as the internet would like to think. From the earliest, Satoshi seemed determined to upset the current balance of economic power in the world, and users flocked to this banner. The rallying cry has always circled around decentralization; government can’t take what it can’t control. Whether through naiveté or poor execution, that isn’t how Bitcoin has ended up. Perhaps Bitcoin needs what any good company, or movement, or theory needs: leadership.

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