Over the last few years, infighting and different visions has led to significant divides within the Bitcoin community, weakening the network effects no matter which chain you support. With all the arguments about scaling, privacy, consensus changes and the various forks, it is amazing that these public networks are still thriving. Nevertheless, the people who maintain the various software protocols that communicate with Bitcoin and the network’s many participants have lives that are finite — which means we don’t know if future generations will change the social contract Satoshi Nakamoto created years ago.
Understanding the Social Layer of Bitcoin
The technology we all know and love called Bitcoin has changed the lives of many individuals over the last 10 years. However, during the latter half of that decade, the humans who have maintained the protocol have relentlessly argued over how it should operate. This has led to a large community divide, endless fighting, and many different forks. The protocol itself, however, has been able to continuously perpetuate the social contract we call “Bitcoin” during this period. However, the arguments have led to wavering opinions and whimsical ideas that threaten the Bitcoin network’s social contract.
The independent cryptocurrency researcher Hasu Fly details the social contract very well in his memorable essay “Unpacking Bitcoin’s Social Contract.” Within the editorial Hasu details that fiat money is a social contract or an agreement between the citizens and the state. Many individuals reject this social contract though and believe the state fails to gain true consensus because it uses force as a means to manage each country’s economy. With Bitcoin, things are quite different and the protocol is used by individuals and organizations in a completely voluntary manner.
“Many don’t realize that Bitcoin works through a social contract as well,” explains Hasu’s essay. “The social layer and its rules are the heart of Bitcoin.”
After describing in great detail on how fiat money and Bitcoin are both social contracts, Hasu then reveals the rules of the network’s underlying social contract. The researcher details that Satoshi Nakamoto settled on four distinct rules: confiscation resistance, censorship resistance, inflation resistance, and counterfeit resistance. Essentially this means the owner of the coins can hold keys to the currency without it being taken away, and the owner can also transact on the network without permission. An owner of any amount of bitcoin knows that the protocol has a limited supply, and last but not least anyone can verify the first three rules at any time using the transparent and public blockchain.
Future Generations Could Drastically Change Bitcoin
So far the technology has stayed true to the social contract and one could easily say this applies to each network whether it be BTC or BCH. Hasu’s essay also details that most of the time social contracts do not fork, but the BCH fork was a rare case scenario and what was left over was “two weaker social contracts — each agreed to by fewer people than the old one.” However, we have yet to cross past one generation with the social contract in the decade since the genesis block. When people recently discussed changing the 21 million capped supply the community went ballistic, but in 10 more years we don’t know if future generations will be more willing. The average human generation is between 25-30 years and bitcoin could be changed drastically in 40 years if the social contract is not upheld today. Let’s face it, over time generations change things and some of those revisions are good and sometimes they are awful — like changing from the gold standard to fiat and trusting central banks.
For now, some of the lead developers of reference implementations are kings of the hill – or at least that’s how they act. But over time, younger generations who are smarter and can code better will challenge these open source developers, and at some point their skills will be useless. Ultimately when money is used as a social contract, participants vote by either using the tender or seeking alternatives. Furthermore, money not only applies to its own social contract theory in a general sense, but also weaves within other social contracts within our society. Like it or not, any one of the two dominant Bitcoin chains may be chosen by the masses by coexisting in an entirely different way and one chain may not survive over the next decade.