Connect with us


The Ethereum Merge: Risks, Flaws And The Pitfalls Of Centralization

Avatar photo



The Ethereum Merge: Risks, Flaws And The Pitfalls Of Centralization

The below is a full free article from a recent edition of Bitcoin Magazine Pro, Bitcoin Magazine’s premium markets newsletter. To be among the first to receive these insights and other on-chain bitcoin market analysis straight to your inbox, subscribe now.

The Merge

On September 15, Ethereum is planning to undergo its long-promised “Merge,” where the protocol will shift from a PoW (proof-of-work) consensus mechanism to a PoS (proof-of-stake) consensus mechanism.

In this report, we will provide details on how the proof-of-stake mechanism works for Ethereum, using technical definitions provided from Ethereum documents. Second, we will evaluate the move to proof-of-stake from first principles, which will include an explanation as to why much of the reasoning for the move is possibly flawed. Last, we will cover the risk factors of the Ethereum PoS mechanism comparing and contrasting the governance to Bitcoin and a PoW consensus mechanism to articulate the fundamental differences between the systems.

This piece was partially inspired by Glassnode’s Lead Analyst, Checkmate’s latest work on Why The Ethereum Merge is a Monumental Blunder.

The Basics

With the shift in consensus mechanisms, Ethereum shifts its block production away from GPU (graphics processing unit) miners over to staking validators.

Validators: “To participate as a validator, a user must deposit 32 ETH into the deposit contract and run three separate pieces of software: an execution client, a consensus client, and a validator. On depositing their ether, the user joins an activation queue that limits the rate of new validators joining the network. Once activated, validators receive new blocks from peers on the Ethereum network. The transactions delivered in the block are re-executed, and the block signature is checked to ensure the block is valid. The validator then sends a vote (called an attestation) in favor of that block across the network.” –

Validators take the role of block production away from miners, and importantly, transfer the power structure away from real world energy input (in the form of hashes) towards capital, in the form of staked ether.

Security: “The threat of a 51% attack still exists on proof-of-stake as it does on proof-of-work, but it’s even riskier for the attackers. An attacker would need 51% of the staked ETH (about $15,000,000,000 USD). They could then use their own attestations to ensure their preferred fork was the one with the most accumulated attestations. The ‘weight’ of accumulated attestations is what consensus clients use to determine the correct chain, so this attacker would be able to make their fork the canonical one. However, a strength of proof-of-stake over proof-of-work is that the community has flexibility in mounting a counter-attack. For example, the honest validators could decide to keep building on the minority chain and ignore the attacker’s fork while encouraging apps, exchanges, and pools to do the same. They could also decide to forcibly remove the attacker from the network and destroy their staked ether. These are strong economic defenses against a 51% attack.” –

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

The Ethereum website claims that the security will be stronger in a PoS consensus system rather than a PoW consensus system, but we consider this to be highly controversial.

While a proof-of-work protocol relies purely on economic incentives and real world physical constraints to secure the chain against attackers in the form of an attack, PoS relies on “social governance” through slashing to attempt to keep stakers honest. To clarify further, to 51% attack the Bitcoin network (to execute a double spend), an attacker would need access to an immense amount of physical infrastructure and energy resources in the form of ASIC miners, electrical infrastructure, and (cheap) energy, before an attack is even attempted. To cap it all off, any hypothetical attacker that does gain access to these things will quickly realize it is more economical to simply be an honest miner.

With proof-of-stake, stakers are kept honest through slashing, where hostile peers see their ether get destroyed (for actions such as proposing multiple blocks in the same slot or violating consensus). Similarly, in the case of potential censorship by a dominant majority of stakers (more on this later), there is an option for a minority soft fork. To quote Vitalik Buterin,

“For other, harder-to-detect attacks (notably, a 51% coalition censoring everyone else), the community can coordinate on a minority user-activated soft fork (UASF) in which the attacker’s funds are once again largely destroyed (in Ethereum, this is done via the “inactivity leak mechanism”). No explicit “hard fork to delete coins” is required; with the exception of the requirement to coordinate on the UASF to select a minority block, everything else is automated and simply following the execution of the protocol rules.”

Miner Extractable Value (MEV)

MEV is an abbreviation of “Miner Extractable Value” that has recently changed to “Maximal Extractable Value” which refers to the profits that can be made by extracting value from Ethereum users through block production.

Given the vast financial application ecosystem built on Ethereum, there is often an arbitrage opportunity in the ordering of transactions. The producers of blocks can reorder, sandwich (the act of front-running a large order, only to use their market order as exit liquidity to profit from the spread), or censor transactions within blocks being produced. It typically affects DeFi users interacting with automated market makers and other apps.

Treasury Sanctions And The Looming Threat Of OFAC Regulations

Last week, the U.S. Treasury announced that Tornado Cash was added to the U.S. OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) SDN list (the list of specially designated nationals with whom Americans and American businesses are not allowed to transact). The sanctions placed on Tornado Cash were particularly notable because they were placed not on an individual person or particular digital wallet address, but rather the use of a smart contract protocol, which in the most basic form is just information. The precedent set by these actions are not ideal for open-source software development.

Regardless of the legal and constitutional precedent of the move, the response from stakeholders across the Ethereum and DeFi ecosystems was the biggest eyeopener. Merely hours after the Treasury added Tornado Cash to the SDN list, Circle, issuer of $53.5 billion stablecoin USDC, had updated its blacklist to include every sanctioned address and smart contract, officially disbanding holders of USDC from interacting with the protocol, and even seizing a small amount of funds.

USDT and USDC stablecoin supply

Circle released the following statement following the move,

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

“Circle is a regulated company that created, and now manages and issues one of the largest dollar digital currencies in the world. As such, we conform with sanctions and compliance requirements, and have done so for years, because building a faster, safer, and more efficient way to move value globally requires trust, and because it’s the law. That trust has helped USD Coin (USDC) grow tremendously in the last few years and has established USDC across the digital asset economy globally.” – Circle blog

This set off a chain reaction in the DeFi ecosystem, where much of the infrastructure that had been built on top of / around USDC, while it had now become increasingly obvious that this wasn’t a sustainable long-term solution for supposedly decentralized finance. MakerDAO

In particular, there began to be an increasing amount of worry about DeFi protocol MakerDAO, which leverages the Ethereum blockchain to create an over-collateralized soft-pegged stablecoin using blockchain-based collateral. 

Lending platforms and so-called “decentralized” exchanges

Despite the many flaws of using TVL (total value locked) as a measure, Maker’s place atop the list for DeFi protocols is telling. Within an ecosystem that saw explosive growth post 2020, Maker’s rise was among the most meteoric.

MakerDAO allows users to generate DAI (an algorithmic stablecoin) by depositing collateral assets into Maker Vaults, which has become increasingly reliant on USDC.

At the time of writing, Maker has approximately $10.44 billion in assets locked in its vaults, with $7.23 billion of DAI issued against that collateral.

Shown below is the percentage of MakerDAOs collateral that is USDC along with the aggregate USDC value in the pane below:

MakerDAO’s USDC share of total assets

It is problematic when the foundation of a so-called decentralized financial revolution is so reliant on collateral that’s the liability of a central issuer.

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

However, you can’t really blame Maker for its reliance on USDC. They are attempting to solve an economic problem that has existed for centuries. As a result of attempting to peg DAI to $1, the architects of MakerDAO faced the classic currency peg trilemma. Economic history has shown that it is only possible to achieve two of three desired policy outcomes at one time:

  1. Setting a fixed currency exchange rate
  2. Allowing capital to flow freely with no fixed currency exchange rate agreement
  3. Autonomous monetary policy

In the case of DAI, MakerDAO’s algorithmic stablecoin, the options are similar, but the recent Treasury sanctions and subsequent compliance on behalf of Circle has led MakerDAO to question its increasing reliance on USDC:

The trilemma in Maker’s case is the following:

  1. Maintain USD peg
  2. Abandon stablecoins as collateral
  3. Scale MakerDAO

Maker can only choose two of the three options.

With the recent developments with USDC, it seems like Maker is considering the latter two, with the consequence being the abandonment of the USD peg for DAI. With this decision, the idea was floated to convert all USDC into ETH, given the bearer asset nature of the cryptocurrency asset relative to the tokenized liability of Circle, a centralized institution regulated by the U.S. government.

This led to a response from Vitalik Buterin, which highlighted the risks of backing an algorithmic stablecoin with volatility collateral (albeit overcollateralized as it currently stands).

This is a large problem for the DeFi space in general. How do you build a decentralized ecosystem of borrowing/lending, when the very thing that is in the most demand to be borrowed is a permissioned “off-chain” asset (the U.S. dollar)? Algorithmic stablecoins are possible, but require over-collateralization and leave users prone to the risk of margin calls/liquidation if the price of the pledged collateral drops.

The increasingly realized threat of censorship and regulations coming through the pipe means that DeFi as it is known today, with large reliance on centralized stablecoins as collateral, is vulnerable.

To quote Lyn Alden,

“Stablecoins are useful, but centralized. And by extension, they centralize any network that is overly reliant on them.”

Additional Infrastructure Censorship

Shortly after the Treasury announcement and blacklists from Circle, key Ethereum infrastructure project Infura, which allows for users/apps to connect to the Ethereum blockchain, began to block RPC (remote procedure call) requests to Tornado Cash. Infura is the service provider for the most-used wallet application in Ethereum, MetaMask, among other applications. Infura is the largest node provider in the Ethereum ecosystem, and even though advanced users route around the ban using their own clients, the marginal user is simply not at that level of technical competency.

Following the Tornado Cash incident, founder and CEO of Coinbase Brian Armstrong spoke out about the sanctions from the U.S. Treasury, citing the bad precedent that comes with sanctioning a technology rather than a direct individual or entity. He followed the criticism by stating, 

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

The Centralization Problem With PoS Ethereum

While Ethereum proponents and developers will claim that the switch to PoS makes Ethereum much more decentralized and resistant to hostile attack, the empirical evidence points to an increasing amount of staking centralization, which can lead to some large problems. At the time of writing, 57.85% of ether is being staked with four providers, with Lido holding by far the largest market share.

Total value of ETH 2.0 staked  by platform

Lido is a liquid staking solution which allows users to stake their ether (and forgo the 32 ETH threshold for smaller holders) in exchange for stETH token, which is a claim that can be redeemable for ether at some point in the future.

By design, current stakers of ether cannot unstake their coins, even directly after the Merge takes place, with Ethereum roadmap estimates suggesting the possible enabling of withdrawals from staking validators at some point in 2023.

The full code enabling withdrawals post-Merge has not yet been completed.

Given that the withdrawals to unstake ETH is not yet an option for users, a liquid staking solution such as Lido (which is far and away the market leader) is an extremely attractive option for users who wish to have access to their coins to trade/hedge/collateralize their ETH.

In a previous issue of ours, Celsius and stETH – A Lesson on (il)Liquidity, we wrote about the one-way dynamic of stETH redeemability:

“stETH is a token issued by Lido which provides users a service where they are able to lock any amount of ETH in exchange for the stETH token, which can be rehypothecated in DeFi to earn yield, serve as collateral, etc. This contrasts to other forms of ETH staking where your assets are not liquid.” – Celsius and stETH – A Lesson on (il)Liquidity.

(Liquid) Staking looks to be a winner-take-all (or most) dynamic, where users choose the service that has the smoothest user experience, the most liquid secondary market (ETH to stETH is currently a one-way market until PoS withdrawals are enable, but users can swap in the secondary market), and the most attractive fee revenue (more on this later). These are just some of the reasons that Lido’s proof-of-stake market share is as large as it is.

The Growing Risks Of Lido

In a blog post written on by Danny Ryan, a lead researcher for the proof-of-stake rollout for the Ethereum Foundation, Ryan highlighted the increasing risks that centralization of stake in Lido could lead to for Ethereum:

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

“Liquid staking derivatives (LSD) such as Lido and similar protocols are a stratum for cartelization and induce significant risks to the Ethereum protocol and to the associated pooled capital when exceeding critical consensus thresholds. Capital allocators should be aware of the risks on their capital and allocate to alternative protocols. LSD protocols should self-limit to avoid centralization and protocol risk that can ultimately destroy their product.

“In the extreme, if an LSD protocol exceeds critical consensus thresholds such as 1/3, 1/2, and 2/3, the staking derivative can achieve outsized profits compared to non-pooled capital due to coordinated MEV extraction, block-timing manipulation, and/or censorship – the cartelization of block space. And in this scenario, staked capital becomes discouraged from staking elsewhere due to outsized cartel rewards, self reinforcing the cartel’s hold on staking.”

In Ryan’s words, risks exist if a staking solution grows to hold a critical amount of stake in a PoS system, due to the ability to use coordinated MEV (miner extractable value), and/or the ability to censor certain actors/transactions at a whim.

Ryan’s suggestion, to have the liquid staking protocol self-limit to avoid centralization and protocol risk, was put up to vote by Lido via the governance token LDO.

Votes conducted with the LDO governance token is how key Lido decisions are made.

A vote for LDO holders was taken to self-limit the staking share for Lido, with the poll starting on June 24 and concluding on July 1. The vote was conducted on Snapshot, a popular tool for DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) on Ethereum to conduct protocol voting/governance.

The results?

A 99% landslide for choosing to not self-limit by LDO holders.

The landslide vote shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that 95.11% of LDO tokens are held within the top 1% of addresses, most of which are U.S.-regulated venture capitalist (VC) firms. 

LIDO supply held by top 1% of addresses

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

Given that Lido governance is indirectly controlled by major venture capitalist firms, of which most operate under U.S. jurisdictions, ETH has a growing centralization problem.

When summing up the amount of staked ETH across Lido, Coinbase, Kraken, and Staked alone, 56.57% of staked ETH currently resides in service providers directly or indirectly under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.

Circling back to the Merge as a consensus change, do you remember the key change that Ethereum is undertaking to go from a proof-of-work to a proof-of-stake network?

Block production is moving from a service conducted by miners to validators.

This means that validators, those who are staking 32 ETH, are the ones in charge of the block production of the Ethereum network. The risk for Ethereum as well as the centralized service providers, is that pressure from U.S. authorities to censor at the protocol level. Referring back to Buterin’s post, the Ethereum community in response to censorship from centralized entities would soft fork, to delete the “attacker’s” stake:

“For other, harder-to-detect attacks (notably, a 51% coalition censoring everyone else), the community can coordinate on a minority user-activated soft fork (UASF) in which the attacker’s funds are once again largely destroyed (in Ethereum, this is done via the “inactivity leak mechanism”). No explicit “hard fork to delete coins” is required; with the exception of the requirement to coordinate on the UASF to select a minority block, everything else is automated and simply following the execution of the protocol rules.”

The problem with this strategy is that due to the large DeFi/L2 ecosystem built around Ethereum over the years, any dissident fork (rebelling against OFAC compliance) would likely lose its ecosystems of stablecoins and trusted oracles.

Fork Ethereum without the backing of USDC, and a daisy chain of DeFi liquidations begins as the non-compliant fork now has USDC-forked tokens that are intrinsically worthless, sparking a massive contagion effect / margin call scenario.

Bitcoin underwent a similar test in 2017 with the fork wars, where a massive push was made by representatives from over 50 companies attending a meeting, notoriously referred to as the New York Agreement, to expand the block size of Bitcoin, which was a required change in consensus.

Individual users of bitcoin revolted against such changes, given the precedent that coordinated hard forks and changing consensus rules would have, and instead implemented a soft fork that enabled the later build-out of scaling solutions such as the Lighting Network. The key difference between the fork proposed by the New York Agreement conspirators and the ones activated by a large number of average bitcoin users was that the former was a proposal to hard fork, while the latter was an opt-in soft fork, meaning that consensus is still backwards-compatible for nodes that did not upgrade.

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

In Ethereum’s case today, the increasing encroachment of possible future censorship at the block production level would not require another fork, other than the one that is already planned for the Merge today. The fork would be on the dissident users, who are pushing for an open, censorship-resistant future.

The distinct difference between what Bitcoin accomplished in 2017 versus what Ethereum may very well face in the future is that a large portion of its ecosystem would likely be lost along the way given the dependence on centralized stablecoins such as USDC in its DeFi ecosystem.

PoS Slashing Hypothetical

Let’s list a simple hypothetical and see how it may play out. The U.S. government imposes increased regulations on Circle, the USDC issuser. They propose to limit transactions from a list of associated Ethereum addresses. Centralized U.S. companies that are Ethereum staking validators must adhere to these regulations by rejecting blocks with these transactions or blacklisting addresses. If they do not, they will face increased scrutiny, fines, sanctions, etc.

The proposed Ethereum solution is slashing by consensus. Slashing would destroy a percentage of the validator’s ETH stake forcing them to reconsider their bad censorship actions. Yet, consensus needs to come from a majority of nodes while the majority of staked ETH already sits with these centralized validators (and cannot be withdrawn as of now).

By not having more solo validators and nodes, consensus would exist with these larger centralized groups and not with the majority of ETH users. In the scenario, centralized groups wouldn’t have the incentive to bravely fight against government regulations. While users, who have staked their ETH with these centralized institutions, would not have the incentive to want to slash their own ETH holdings in the name of censorship resistance.

Other ETH users and nodes can push against this to force a potential minority fork or UASF (user-activated soft fork). However this would likely come at the expense of losing Circle and much of the developed DeFi infrastructure that has been built on Ethereum over the last few years.

In an adversarial scenario, given the precedent set by Circle last week, is there a legitimate case to be made for Circle not choosing the OFAC-compliant chain/fork?

We should be clear that we unequivocally do not support the sanctioning of smart contracts, base-level censorship, or imposed top-down state control over the mediums of communication or economic value.

All we are aiming to do is pose what we view are legitimate questions. Bitcoin, Ethereum, and broadly the cryptocurrency market at large are attempting to take the issuance and control of money away from the state.

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

History shows that there will be a vested interest in controlling/co-opting this endeavor.

Never-Ending Forks

Throughout Ethereum’s history, there’s been a number of substantial hard forks and updates by design to create an ever-evolving protocol. Many of these changes have included changes to difficulty bombs to push back potential Merge dates and altering supply issuance over time to be increasingly disinflationary. Proponents of Ethereum argue this makes ether “ultra-sound” money, which is paradoxical given that the soundness of money is derived from the inability to be changed/altered/diluted in any way, especially for political purposes.

Hard forks and major updates at the core of Ethereum’s strategy is almost the exact opposite of Bitcoin’s. Updates and changes to the consensus protocol have changed as the narratives and vision of what Ethereum should be has changed. While this may be attractive for its idealist users/proponents, this leaves Ethereum’s governance to be subject to later politics.

With the rising uncertainty and risks of life post the PoS Merge, all we can expect is for hard forks and major updates to continue. For many, this is attractive as the Ethereum community will work to build new solutions and complex protocol designs depending on what major challenge they face. Yet for others, Ethereum as an asset and protocol look like an engineering experiment that is lacking true stability.

ETH issuance and average block interval

10/16/2017: Byzantium update, “A hard fork is a change to the underlying Ethereum protocol, creating new rules to improve the system. The protocol changes are activated at a specific block number. All Ethereum clients need to upgrade, otherwise they will be stuck on an incompatible chain following the old rules.”

02/28/2019: Constantinople update, “The average block times are increasing due to the difficulty bomb (also known as the “ice age”) slowly accelerating. This EIP proposes to delay the difficulty bomb for approximately 12 months and to reduce the block rewards with the Constantinople fork, the second part of the Metropolis fork.”

1/2/2020: Muir Glacier update, “The average block times are increasing due to the difficulty bomb (also known as the “ice age”) and slowly accelerating. This EIP proposes to delay the difficulty bomb for another 4,000,000 blocks (~611 days)”

8/5/2021: EIP-1559 – London hard fork, “A transaction pricing mechanism that includes fixed-per-block network fee that is burned and dynamically expands/contracts block sizes to deal with transient congestion.”

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

12/8/21: Arrow Glacier Update, “The Arrow Glacier network upgrade, similarly to Muir Glacier, changes the parameters of the Ice Age/Difficulty Bomb, pushing it back several months. This has also been done in the Byzantium, Constantinople and London network upgrades. No other changes are introduced as part of Arrow Glacier.”

6/29/2022: Gray Glacier Update, “The Gray Glacier network upgrade changes the parameters of the Ice Age/Difficulty Bomb, pushing it back by 700,000 blocks, or roughly 100 days. This has also been done in the Byzantium, Constantinople, Muir Glacier, London and Arrow Glacier network upgrades. No other changes are introduced as part of Gray Glacier.”

Near-Term Market Outlook

Lastly, we previously highlighted just how leveraged and speculative the Ethereum derivatives market is right now. Reaching over 100% from its lows in June, ETH has been riding the Merge hype while acting as high beta to bitcoin (which has been high beta to equities). Traders have piled in going long into the Merge. There’s no doubt that the Merge narrative has helped to move price upwards over the last two months. But it absolutely must be noted that ETH has just been following the path of broader equities and risk.

Over the last few days, those relationships have been breaking down and ETH, along with bitcoin, are showing signs of weakness at key breakout price areas. The market looks to be at one of its most pivotal points of the cycle across a potential bear market rally conclusion, the Merge in four weeks and a September FOMC meeting in the same month.

Final Note

Our view is that with the advent of bitcoin, the Byzantine Generals’ Problem (otherwise known as the double-spend problem) found an engineering solution. With the combination of proof-of-work and a dynamic difficulty adjustment, humanity had at last figured out how to store and move value in a trustless manner across the internet. The system’s consensus mechanism is secured by a network of independent node runners, operating a software that is as simple, robust and resilient as technically possible, in order to bootstrap a new decentralized monetary system from the ground up against the interests of the world’s most powerful institutions.

We believe that ether as an asset and Ethereum as a platform are something different entirely, and many of the design/engineering decisions made by the community have led it to potentially become vulnerable to capture in the future.

From an idealist point of view, an attempt to construct a new permissionless infrastructure of financial applications using Ethereum is novel, but the rationalist in us believes that the narratives of true decentralized infrastructure and “ultra-sound” monetary properties are more of a marketing gimmick than reality.

“Governments are good at cutting off the heads of a centrally controlled networks like Napster, but pure P2P networks like Gnutella and Tor seem to be holding their own.”  Satoshi Nakamoto, November 7, 2008

Read More

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback
Continue Reading
Click to comment


El Salvador Takes First Step To Issue Bitcoin Volcano Bonds

Avatar photo



El Salvador Takes First Step To Issue Bitcoin Volcano Bonds

El Salvador’s Minister of the Economy Maria Luisa Hayem Brevé submitted a digital assets issuance bill to the country’s legislative assembly, paving the way for the launch of its bitcoin-backed “volcano” bonds.

First announced one year ago today, the pioneering initiative seeks to attract capital and investors to El Salvador. It was revealed at the time the plans to issue $1 billion in bonds on the Liquid Network, a federated Bitcoin sidechain, with the proceedings of the bonds being split between a $500 million direct allocation to bitcoin and an investment of the same amount in building out energy and bitcoin mining infrastructure in the region.

A sidechain is an independent blockchain that runs parallel to another blockchain, allowing for tokens from that blockchain to be used securely in the sidechain while abiding by a different set of rules, performance requirements, and security mechanisms. Liquid is a sidechain of Bitcoin that allows bitcoin to flow between the Liquid and Bitcoin networks with a two-way peg. A representation of bitcoin used in the Liquid network is referred to as L-BTC. Its verifiably equivalent amount of BTC is managed and secured by the network’s members, called functionaries.

“Digital securities law will enable El Salvador to be the financial center of central and south America,” wrote Paolo Ardoino, CTO of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, on Twitter.

Bitfinex is set to be granted a license in order to be able to process and list the bond issuance in El Salvador.

The bonds will pay a 6.5% yield and enable fast-tracked citizenship for investors. The government will share half the additional gains with investors as a Bitcoin Dividend once the original $500 million has been monetized. These dividends will be dispersed annually using Blockstream’s asset management platform.

The act of submitting the bill, which was hinted at earlier this year, kickstarts the first major milestone before the bonds can see the light of day. The next is getting it approved, which is expected to happen before Christmas, a source close to President Nayib Bukele told Bitcoin Magazine. The bill was submitted on November 17 and presented to the country’s Congress today. It is embedded in full below.

Read More

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

Continue Reading


How I’ll Talk To Family Members About Bitcoin This Thanksgiving

Avatar photo



How I’ll Talk To Family Members About Bitcoin This Thanksgiving

This is an opinion editorial by Joakim Book, a Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, contributor and copy editor for Bitcoin Magazine and a writer on all things money and financial history.

I don’t.

That’s it. That’s the article.

In all sincerity, that is the full message: Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

You’re not an excited teenager anymore, in desperate need of bragging credits or trying out your newfound wisdom. You’re not a preaching priestess with lost souls to save right before some imminent arrival of the day of reckoning. We have time.

Instead: just leave people alone. Seriously. They came to Thanksgiving dinner to relax and rejoice with family, laugh, tell stories and zone out for a day — not to be ambushed with what to them will sound like a deranged rant in some obscure topic they couldn’t care less about. Even if it’s the monetary system, which nobody understands anyway.

Get real.

If you’re not convinced of this Dale Carnegie-esque social approach, and you still naively think that your meager words in between bites can change anybody’s view on anything, here are some more serious reasons for why you don’t talk to friends and family about Bitcoin the protocol — but most certainly not bitcoin, the asset:

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback
  • Your family and friends don’t want to hear it. Move on.
  • For op-sec reasons, you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that you probably have a decent bitcoin stack. Hopefully, family and close friends should be safe enough to confide in, but people talk and that gossip can only hurt you.
  • People find bitcoin interesting only when they’re ready to; everyone gets the price they deserve. Like Gigi says in “21 Lessons:”

“Bitcoin will be understood by you as soon as you are ready, and I also believe that the first fractions of a bitcoin will find you as soon as you are ready to receive them. In essence, everyone will get ₿itcoin at exactly the right time.”

It’s highly unlikely that your uncle or mother-in-law just happens to be at that stage, just when you’re about to sit down for dinner.

  • Unless you can claim youth, old age or extreme poverty, there are very few people who genuinely haven’t heard of bitcoin. That means your evangelizing wouldn’t be preaching to lost, ignorant souls ready to be saved but the tired, huddled and jaded masses who could care less about the discovery that will change their societies more than the internal combustion engine, internet and Big Government combined. Big deal.
  • What is the case, however, is that everyone in your prospective audience has already had a couple of touchpoints and rejected bitcoin for this or that standard FUD. It’s a scam; seems weird; it’s dead; let’s trust the central bankers, who have our best interest at heart.
    No amount of FUD busting changes that impression, because nobody holds uninformed and fringe convictions for rational reasons, reasons that can be flipped by your enthusiastic arguments in-between wiping off cranberry sauce and grabbing another turkey slice.
  • It really is bad form to talk about money — and bitcoin is the best money there is. Be classy.

Now, I’m not saying to never ever talk about Bitcoin. We love to talk Bitcoin — that’s why we go to meetups, join Twitter Spaces, write, code, run nodes, listen to podcasts, attend conferences. People there get something about this monetary rebellion and have opted in to be part of it. Your unsuspecting family members have not; ambushing them with the wonders of multisig, the magically fast Lightning transactions or how they too really need to get on this hype train, like, yesterday, is unlikely to go down well.

However, if in the post-dinner lull on the porch someone comes to you one-on-one, whisky in hand and of an inquisitive mind, that’s a very different story. That’s personal rather than public, and it’s without the time constraints that so usually trouble us. It involves clarifying questions or doubts for somebody who is both expressively curious about the topic and available for the talk. That’s rare — cherish it, and nurture it.

Last year I wrote something about the proper role of political conversations in social settings. Since November was also election month, it’s appropriate to cite here:

“Politics, I’m starting to believe, best belongs in the closet — rebranded and brought out for the specific occasion. Or perhaps the bedroom, with those you most trust, love, and respect. Not in public, not with strangers, not with friends, and most certainly not with other people in your community. Purge it from your being as much as you possibly could, and refuse to let political issues invade the areas of our lives that we cherish; politics and political disagreements don’t belong there, and our lives are too important to let them be ruled by (mostly contrived) political disagreements.”

If anything, those words seem more true today than they even did then. And I posit to you that the same applies for bitcoin.

Everyone has some sort of impression or opinion of bitcoin — and most of them are plain wrong. But there’s nothing people love more than a savior in white armor, riding in to dispel their errors about some thing they are freshly out of fucks for. Just like politics, nobody really cares.

Leave them alone. They will find bitcoin in their own time, just like all of us did.

This is a guest post by Joakim Book. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

Read More

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback
Continue Reading


RGB Magic: Client-Side Contracts On Bitcoin

Avatar photo



RGB Magic: Client-Side Contracts On Bitcoin

This is an opinion editorial by Federico Tenga, a long time contributor to Bitcoin projects with experience as start-up founder, consultant and educator.

The term “smart contracts” predates the invention of the blockchain and Bitcoin itself. Its first mention is in a 1994 article by Nick Szabo, who defined smart contracts as a “computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.” While by this definition Bitcoin, thanks to its scripting language, supported smart contracts from the very first block, the term was popularized only later by Ethereum promoters, who twisted the original definition as “code that is redundantly executed by all nodes in a global consensus network”

While delegating code execution to a global consensus network has advantages (e.g. it is easy to deploy unowed contracts, such as the popularly automated market makers), this design has one major flaw: lack of scalability (and privacy). If every node in a network must redundantly run the same code, the amount of code that can actually be executed without excessively increasing the cost of running a node (and thus preserving decentralization) remains scarce, meaning that only a small number of contracts can be executed.

But what if we could design a system where the terms of the contract are executed and validated only by the parties involved, rather than by all members of the network? Let us imagine the example of a company that wants to issue shares. Instead of publishing the issuance contract publicly on a global ledger and using that ledger to track all future transfers of ownership, it could simply issue the shares privately and pass to the buyers the right to further transfer them. Then, the right to transfer ownership can be passed on to each new owner as if it were an amendment to the original issuance contract. In this way, each owner can independently verify that the shares he or she received are genuine by reading the original contract and validating that all the history of amendments that moved the shares conform to the rules set forth in the original contract.

This is actually nothing new, it is indeed the same mechanism that was used to transfer property before public registers became popular. In the U.K., for example, it was not compulsory to register a property when its ownership was transferred until the ‘90s. This means that still today over 15% of land in England and Wales is unregistered. If you are buying an unregistered property, instead of checking on a registry if the seller is the true owner, you would have to verify an unbroken chain of ownership going back at least 15 years (a period considered long enough to assume that the seller has sufficient title to the property). In doing so, you must ensure that any transfer of ownership has been carried out correctly and that any mortgages used for previous transactions have been paid off in full. This model has the advantage of improved privacy over ownership, and you do not have to rely on the maintainer of the public land register. On the other hand, it makes the verification of the seller’s ownership much more complicated for the buyer.

Title deed of unregistered real estate propriety

Source: Title deed of unregistered real estate propriety

How can the transfer of unregistered properties be improved? First of all, by making it a digitized process. If there is code that can be run by a computer to verify that all the history of ownership transfers is in compliance with the original contract rules, buying and selling becomes much faster and cheaper.

Secondly, to avoid the risk of the seller double-spending their asset, a system of proof of publication must be implemented. For example, we could implement a rule that every transfer of ownership must be committed on a predefined spot of a well-known newspaper (e.g. put the hash of the transfer of ownership in the upper-right corner of the first page of the New York Times). Since you cannot place the hash of a transfer in the same place twice, this prevents double-spending attempts. However, using a famous newspaper for this purpose has some disadvantages:

  1. You have to buy a lot of newspapers for the verification process. Not very practical.
  2. Each contract needs its own space in the newspaper. Not very scalable.
  3. The newspaper editor can easily censor or, even worse, simulate double-spending by putting a random hash in your slot, making any potential buyer of your asset think it has been sold before, and discouraging them from buying it. Not very trustless.

For these reasons, a better place to post proof of ownership transfers needs to be found. And what better option than the Bitcoin blockchain, an already established trusted public ledger with strong incentives to keep it censorship-resistant and decentralized?

If we use Bitcoin, we should not specify a fixed place in the block where the commitment to transfer ownership must occur (e.g. in the first transaction) because, just like with the editor of the New York Times, the miner could mess with it. A better approach is to place the commitment in a predefined Bitcoin transaction, more specifically in a transaction that originates from an unspent transaction output (UTXO) to which the ownership of the asset to be issued is linked. The link between an asset and a bitcoin UTXO can occur either in the contract that issues the asset or in a subsequent transfer of ownership, each time making the target UTXO the controller of the transferred asset. In this way, we have clearly defined where the obligation to transfer ownership should be (i.e in the Bitcoin transaction originating from a particular UTXO). Anyone running a Bitcoin node can independently verify the commitments and neither the miners nor any other entity are able to censor or interfere with the asset transfer in any way.

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback
transfer of ownership of utxo

Since on the Bitcoin blockchain we only publish a commitment of an ownership transfer, not the content of the transfer itself, the seller needs a dedicated communication channel to provide the buyer with all the proofs that the ownership transfer is valid. This could be done in a number of ways, potentially even by printing out the proofs and shipping them with a carrier pigeon, which, while a bit impractical, would still do the job. But the best option to avoid the censorship and privacy violations is establish a direct peer-to-peer encrypted communication, which compared to the pigeons also has the advantage of being easy to integrate with a software to verify the proofs received from the counterparty.

This model just described for client-side validated contracts and ownership transfers is exactly what has been implemented with the RGB protocol. With RGB, it is possible to create a contract that defines rights, assigns them to one or more existing bitcoin UTXO and specifies how their ownership can be transferred. The contract can be created starting from a template, called a “schema,” in which the creator of the contract only adjusts the parameters and ownership rights, as is done with traditional legal contracts. Currently, there are two types of schemas in RGB: one for issuing fungible tokens (RGB20) and a second for issuing collectibles (RGB21), but in the future, more schemas can be developed by anyone in a permissionless fashion without requiring changes at the protocol level.

To use a more practical example, an issuer of fungible assets (e.g. company shares, stablecoins, etc.) can use the RGB20 schema template and create a contract defining how many tokens it will issue, the name of the asset and some additional metadata associated with it. It can then define which bitcoin UTXO has the right to transfer ownership of the created tokens and assign other rights to other UTXOs, such as the right to make a secondary issuance or to renominate the asset. Each client receiving tokens created by this contract will be able to verify the content of the Genesis contract and validate that any transfer of ownership in the history of the token received has complied with the rules set out therein.

So what can we do with RGB in practice today? First and foremost, it enables the issuance and the transfer of tokenized assets with better scalability and privacy compared to any existing alternative. On the privacy side, RGB benefits from the fact that all transfer-related data is kept client-side, so a blockchain observer cannot extract any information about the user’s financial activities (it is not even possible to distinguish a bitcoin transaction containing an RGB commitment from a regular one), moreover, the receiver shares with the sender only blinded UTXO (i. e. the hash of the concatenation between the UTXO in which she wish to receive the assets and a random number) instead of the UTXO itself, so it is not possible for the payer to monitor future activities of the receiver. To further increase the privacy of users, RGB also adopts the bulletproof cryptographic mechanism to hide the amounts in the history of asset transfers, so that even future owners of assets have an obfuscated view of the financial behavior of previous holders.

In terms of scalability, RGB offers some advantages as well. First of all, most of the data is kept off-chain, as the blockchain is only used as a commitment layer, reducing the fees that need to be paid and meaning that each client only validates the transfers it is interested in instead of all the activity of a global network. Since an RGB transfer still requires a Bitcoin transaction, the fee saving may seem minimal, but when you start introducing transaction batching they can quickly become massive. Indeed, it is possible to transfer all the tokens (or, more generally, “rights”) associated with a UTXO towards an arbitrary amount of recipients with a single commitment in a single bitcoin transaction. Let’s assume you are a service provider making payouts to several users at once. With RGB, you can commit in a single Bitcoin transaction thousands of transfers to thousands of users requesting different types of assets, making the marginal cost of each single payout absolutely negligible.

Another fee-saving mechanism for issuers of low value assets is that in RGB the issuance of an asset does not require paying fees. This happens because the creation of an issuance contract does not need to be committed on the blockchain. A contract simply defines to which already existing UTXO the newly issued assets will be allocated to. So if you are an artist interested in creating collectible tokens, you can issue as many as you want for free and then only pay the bitcoin transaction fee when a buyer shows up and requests the token to be assigned to their UTXO.

Furthermore, because RGB is built on top of bitcoin transactions, it is also compatible with the Lightning Network. While it is not yet implemented at the time of writing, it will be possible to create asset-specific Lightning channels and route payments through them, similar to how it works with normal Lightning transactions.


RGB is a groundbreaking innovation that opens up to new use cases using a completely new paradigm, but which tools are available to use it? If you want to experiment with the core of the technology itself, you should directly try out the RGB node. If you want to build applications on top of RGB without having to deep dive into the complexity of the protocol, you can use the rgb-lib library, which provides a simple interface for developers. If you just want to try to issue and transfer assets, you can play with Iris Wallet for Android, whose code is also open source on GitHub. If you just want to learn more about RGB you can check out this list of resources.

This is a guest post by Federico Tenga. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

Read More

Submit your 2022 Austin Neighborhood Feedback

Continue Reading