Chokepoints in the Crypto Ecosystem

By TabbyTabby | The Lonely Places | 4 Oct 2021

Centralization of power poses a threat to all free expression; the fewer the people who hold power, the fewer have to be threatened, bought off, controlled, or influenced to control expression. In other words, places where a few can determine the freedom of many are informational and power chokepoints. Where chokepoints exist, certain groups seek to find them and choke off expression they dislike.

Where are such chokepoints in the crypto ecosystem?

Are blockchains themselves chokepoints? No. Blockchain technology has solidified the lessons learned from the early internet years, making expression on the blockchain censorship-resistant, creating "unstoppable speech".

Are blockchain of blockchains (such as COSMOS) or blockchain-interoperable solutions (such as CLOVR), chokepoints? No. They are already seeing the threats of centralization at a code level that could result in censorship and are mitigating them.

Are CEXs are a chokepoint? Yes. They have been in the past (MtGox once handled over 70% of all Bitcoin swaps); however, DeFi is an effective counterweight. CEXs still bear watching, for some essentially control their own currency; if they were to expand into holding enough coins to determine the direction of multiple currencies, they could prove a tempting target.  

The weakness is largely not in the technology, but in the human interface to the technology.

One chokepoint is government -- China is the greatest example of how crypto could turn into a nightmare. The Chinese government has banned all crypto but has at last deployed a response --  the digital yuan. It has promised "controllable anonymity" but what that really means is that China can track what people buy, block purchases by individuals, remove digital yuan, or deflate its value to zero, should the Chinese central planners decide. Some have compared it to "food coupons with restrictions". Free countries are better off never implementing a national crypto currency because it makes the China approach inevitable.

Another chokepoint are those who own large numbers of governance tokens. They could be persuaded to let their particular blockchains censor certain transactions, certain people, certain viewpoints, and so on. As crypto grows in importance and wealth, pressure on such coin owners will only intensify. They will have the promises of power, acceptance, and financial gain dangled before them. Don't they want to hang with their musical idols? Don't they want to rub shoulders with political superstars? Don't they want more money than they could dream of? All they have to do is vote a certain way, or sell their coins to the proper buyer. If they refuse to go along, smear campaigns, doxing, death threats, and worse are all possible, to those who believe any action can be justified. Imagine the political scene of today, where all sorts of unusual events occur along with even stranger deaths. Crypto cannot be immune for much longer.

Chokepoints can also be understood as "concentrations of power" or "mini-centralizations". How can crypto eliminate chokepoints at interfaces beyond the code level? That is a question the crypto ecosystem needs to answer to remain able to determine its own destiny.

(Photo by Alycia Fung from Pexels).

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I write. I program. I make music. I am of the tribe of liberty.

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