Governing what Wasn’t Meant to be Governed: A Controversy-Based Approach to the Study of Bitcoin Governance
38 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2019
Date Written: November 15, 2018
Is it possible to implement trustworthy governance mechanisms for Bitcoin -- the technology that, by design and by manifesto, “was not meant to be governed” to begin with? This question has been raised several times since the creation of Bitcoin, which has been presented as an “alternative” currency circumventing state-backed financial and economic institutions. It is no coincidence that Bitcoin’s birth and swift rise took place at the very moment in recent history, 2008, when the worldwide financial crisis exposed the shortcomings and unsavory innerworkings of the global financial system. Not meant to be controlled by any central authority, Bitcoin’s monetary supply is shaped and defined by its namesake protocol -- its cornerstone being that from the inception of the system, the total amount of bitcoins that could ever be created was known and established in advance (twenty-one million), and so was their generation rate over time. The generation of bitcoins is based on an activity called mining, based on the principle that bitcoins are assigned as a reward to those users -- the miners -- that lend their computing and hard disk resources to the system for operational and security purposes. The establishment of the system’s functioning as “purely” technical, as mentioned, was strictly related to the alleged aim of wiping corruption and “human-made” dangerous and speculative practices from finance and markets. Banks and states could not be trusted anymore, opening the way to a trustless, cryptography-reliant, architecture-based solution. However -- and as we have explored in previous work (Mallard, Méadel and Musiani, 2014) -- when Bitcoin started becoming a global network and raised interest and business opportunities for a variety of actors worldwide, including a number of new market intermediaries, the issue of trust came back in full colors raising questions related to the global redistribution of authority and power -- and governance.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation