Bitcoin: A natural oligopoly

Nick Arnosti, S. Matthew Weinberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Although Bitcoin was intended to be a decentralized digital currency, in practice, mining power is quite concentrated. This fact is a persistent source of concern for the Bitcoin community. We provide an explanation using a simple model to capture miners’ incentives to invest in equipment. In our model, n miners compete for a prize of fixed size. Each miner chooses an investment qi, incurring cost ciqi, and then receives reward (Formula presented.), for some α ≥ 1. When ci = cj for all i, j, and α = 1, there is a unique equilibrium where all miners invest equally. However, we prove that under seemingly mild deviations from this model, equilibrium outcomes become drastically more centralized. In particular, ▬ When costs are asymmetric, if miner i chooses to invest, then miner j has market share at least (Formula presented.). That is, if miner j has costs that are (e.g.) 20% lower than those of miner i, then miner j must control at least 20% of the total mining power. ▬ In the presence of economies of scale (α > 1), every market participant has a market share of at least (Formula presented.), implying that the market features at most (Formula presented.) miners in total. We discuss the implications of our results for the future design of cryptocurrencies. In particular, our work further motivates the study of protocols that minimize “orphaned” blocks, proof-of-stake protocols, and incentive compatible protocols.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication10th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science, ITCS 2019
EditorsAvrim Blum
PublisherSchloss Dagstuhl- Leibniz-Zentrum fur Informatik GmbH, Dagstuhl Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9783959770958
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Event10th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science, ITCS 2019 - San Diego, United States
Duration: Jan 10 2019Jan 12 2019

Publication series

NameLeibniz International Proceedings in Informatics, LIPIcs
Volume124
ISSN (Print)1868-8969

Conference

Conference10th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science, ITCS 2019
CountryUnited States
CitySan Diego
Period1/10/191/12/19

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software

Keywords

  • Bitcoin
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Rent-seeking competition

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  • Cite this

    Arnosti, N., & Matthew Weinberg, S. (2019). Bitcoin: A natural oligopoly. In A. Blum (Ed.), 10th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science, ITCS 2019 [5] (Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics, LIPIcs; Vol. 124). Schloss Dagstuhl- Leibniz-Zentrum fur Informatik GmbH, Dagstuhl Publishing. https://doi.org/10.4230/LIPIcs.ITCS.2019.5