Ripple’s David Schwartz, Emin Gün Sirer go head-to-head as community debates on whether Bitcoin miners are middlemen

  • 20 July 2019, Saturday, 10:40

The price of Bitcoin [BTC] has managed to push itself above the $10k mark again. However, away from the market action, the Twitter community of Bitcoin saw an interesting discussion on some pre-perceived notions among people about Bitcoin miners.

Angela Walch, Professor and Research Fellow at UCL Centre for Blockchain Technologies, laid out her reasons as to “why people think Bitcoin miners [including hashers, mining pool operators, and cloud mining companies] are not intermediaries.” She also clarified that in her statements, Welch was referring to the layman’s definition of the word ‘intermediary,’ also known as a middleman.

However, there was a lot of debate around whether Bitcoin miners are middleman or not. Ripple’s CTO, David Schwartz, joined the conversation at one point to tell the researcher that Bitcoin miners do not have the right or duty to be middlemen. He explained,

“A middleman is someone who stands in the middle with some right or obligation to complete the transaction.”

Schwartz clarified his understanding of the role by giving the analogy of a paper plane flying in the wind, explaining that Bitcoin miners do not have any right, duty, or control to be a middleman. Schwartz added,

“The system is arguably a middleman. The miner who later discovers their block survived isn’t. Is the internet provider a packet went over a middleman in online banking?”

According to the researcher’s definition, miners could be middleman as they can censor, order or delay transactions. However, due to the lack of rights, obligations, agreements, and control, they cannot be considered as middlemen. Soon, Emin Gun Sirer jumped in to say that miners do determine the content of a blockchain, as opposed to Schwartz’s statement. Sirer added,

“They voluntarily include txs, based on how much the users pay the miners with fees. They can censor. If 51% so choose, they can render certain addresses immobile, certain tx’s unincludable in the chain.”

However, the community could react with blinding transactions to this, even switch to Proof of Stake and change the mining algorithm or abandon Bitcoin, informed Ripple’s CTO. It would be a ‘catastrophic failure of the system’ if people abandon Bitcoin or even change the protocol, as that would no longer be Bitcoin, Sirer responded back.

Schwartz sealed the argument however, after he informed Sirer that there doesn’t exist any rule that restricts evolution and changes in Bitcoin, concluding,

“There is no force, no authority. Bitcoin is whatever its stakeholders want it to be and saying it’s not bitcoin anymore is sophistry and arbitrary line drawing.”