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Bitcoin Cash Infrastructure Debate Catches Eye of Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin & Zcash’s Zooko

TL;DR: Near the end of January, influential mining pool BTC.TOP founder, Jiang Zhuoer, announced the Infrastructure Funding Plan for Bitcoin Cash (IFP). It was met with furious debate within the peer-to-peer electronic cash community. Since, the IFP has been amended; between and after, the discussion caught the eye of two prominent alternative cryptocurrency project founders, Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin and Zcash’s Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn (Zooko). 

Bitcoin Cash Infrastructure Debate Catches Eye of Buterin & Zooko

Zhuoer’s first iteration of the IFP included orphaning blocks, a Hong Kong corporation, and redirecting 12.5% of the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) coinbase block reward toward infrastructure development. For many in the BCH orbit, funding development at a protocol level has become of critical importance. The IFP was meant to take on that seriousness, hoping to convince miners and mining pools of a trial period, a temporary 6-month change, that could yield more than $6,000,000.

Bitcoin Cash
Vitalik Buterin

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin took notice almost immediately, calling the first IFP a compulsory soft fork comparable to a Zcash-like funding arrangement. “It’s worth noting the irony here,” Buterin explained, “BCH, a chain that was born as a reaction to an ideology that claims that soft forks are the only legitimate way to make changes because they are ‘voluntary’ is…. making a controversial soft fork and insinuating that it’s voluntary,” referencing notorious battles within BTC which eventually gave way to BCH back in mid-2017.

He also called the IFP a “natural extension of existing BCH ideology, specifically ‘the market for consensus,'” where “miners should be proposing different consensus rules and trying to enforce them by forking off non-compliant blocks, and this will naturally stabilize toward consensus rules that the majority is okay with. This idea was first applied seriously for block size (this is what Bitcoin Unlimited did); is it *that* much of a stretch to also apply it to the 2^160-dimensional parameter of which addresses get what share of the block reward to fund development?” Buterin asked provocatively.

Nasty Equilibria

Ultimately, he revealed finding such a scenario devolving into a “nasty equilibria and could easily lead to entrenched interests. This miner group seems to respect the concern (after all, BCH largely gave up market-for-consensus for block size too) and made the fund time-limited.” What did cause a pang of optimism for Buterin, however, was “cypherpunks taking public goods challenges seriously.”

Bitcoin Cash
Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn

Buterin views BCH protocol development as a public good, the unsexy, unheralded work that must be done: tending to code rot, tech debt, inevitable fixes, unintended consequences, in order to have a stable network capable of scaling. It is upon such a foundation snappy hotshot application developers can then do their thing, presenting the latest shiny new things that often grab press headlines and attention — and zillions in funding. Roads and highways? Not so much.

“Now the key challenge is governance,” Buterin continued in his remarks about the first IFP draft. “Public goods problems are not a one-time emergency, they are a systematic problem that requires a systematic solution. And that requires credibly neutral governance that people can accept for the long term.” He later added, “I have no idea how this ‘Hong Kong corporation’ is structured or who it will give money to. I have wide uncertainty about the extent to which this will actually fund needed development. Fingers crossed. Governance is important, dawg.”

Round 2: So So Interesting

By the end of January, however, amid growing tensions which included a full-on miner revolt, scathing rebukes from Bitcoin Unlimited, and a signatory formally pulling its name from the IFP, Jiang Zhuoer presented an update. Gone was mention of block orphaning, a Hong Kong corporation, and even the often seized-upon-by-critics 12.5% number.

Once again, Buterin took notice. “In case you’re wondering what side I’m on in all of this,” he revealed, “I’m on the side of taking public goods challenges seriously and being open to adjusting ideological preconceptions while maintaining a commitment to core values of decentralization in order to meet them.”

Bitcoin Cash
Buterin paraphrased this part of an alternative proposal.

At the same time, Zcash founder Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn also weighed-in on the Bitcoin Cash discussion. “Very interesting! Jiang Zhuoer is proposing a ‘Miner-Directed Dev Fund’ for BCH, with the same mechanics that was proposed by Andrew Miller for Zcash and was rejected,” and pointed followers to the Miller proposal. Zooko stressed his community ultimately “wouldn’t accept the funds from miner-directed funding.”

Buterin, on the other hand, retained his interest in the broader discussion, referencing one of many alternative proposals to Zhuoer’s two tries. Paraphrasing its salient part, he smiled, “Translation to social-democrat speak: ‘If we had more proper robust publicly funded services, we wouldn’t have so much of our society taken over by powerful corporations offering second-rate privatized substitutes.’ Interesting the parallels. So so interesting.”

David Bond

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