In the age of grand proclamations such as those made by president Donald Trump, it seems anything goes. Now comes Ripple CTO Stefan Thomas, who along with hundreds of speculators and bankers worldwide must be celebrating the recent and ongoing price rise of Ripple on news of bank partnerships the world over, making a bold, if not grandiose, statement:
As we continue these initiatives to further decentralize the system, RCL will inherently become even more resilient. A key benchmark that we aim to achieve is to become more decentralized than Bitcoin, which at the time of writing is 51% controlled by just five mining pools.
One of the key and longstanding critiques of Ripple, of course, is that it is “centralized.” Centralized versus decentralized have long-been watch words in the cryptocurrency world. We immediately assume that because something is decentralized it is better, yet at present the centralized system of Paypal and Western Union is, much of the time, in practice less expensive to remit money through than Bitcoin. It’s hard to accept that “banking the unbanked” should come at a higher cost to said unbanked, and alternative cryptocurrencies will continue to flourish as payment rails while this situation stands.
However, we cannot take statements like Thomas’s lightly. The key word in his charge of mining pool centralization re: Bitcoin is the “pools.” Pools are made up of thousands of different interests, and in the past 51% control problems have been eliminated by miners deciding to leave for other pools for the good of the network (which they rely on to make money). Self-interest can be a governance mechanism in itself. No one wants to support an entity which could potentially destroy the entire financial system one relies on, so in the end, no one will.
The push to greater “resiliency” is problematic in tone, coming from Ripple. I must refer you now to the testimony of Ripple’s Karen Gifford, wherein she said:
One thing that I should just clarify technically […] one of the differences between the Ripple technology and, like the Bitcoin technology in terms of transparency just happens to be that the way that the Ripple technology tracks information is by account. […] And an account is connected with an account holder, an individual or an entity that’s holding that account. So, using this technology we’re able to see financial activity by account holder.
Resiliency is far less a problem for a network which already aims to comply with every whim of the governments of the world, and works with the banks without whom a Bitcoin never would have been inspired to exist. While we must cautiously applaud the CTO’s efforts to further decentralize Ripple, making statements such as “more decentralized than Bitcoin” is not only in poor taste, but probably technically untrue and undesirable by design for a currency like Ripple.
You can’t much blame Thomas for taking the piss, though, can you? The Bitcoin community remains locked in a battle for the future of the blockchain, and both sides make weak arguments as to why they hate the other. The most sychophantic of one side credit the price explosion to their own side’s hardline unwillingness to reason and fails to take into account the increasing acceptability of cryptographic money in mainstream finance, which I would argue is the real reason we’re seeing these spikes.
No, this editorial is not meant to denounce the decentralization efforts of Ripple. But as long as Ripple’s goal is to differentiate itself in every way from Bitcoin (including the privacy aspects, which are still important for some in this ever-more non-private world), it is in better taste to not make lewd statements like the above. In fact, it’s almost suspect to do as much.
Let’s hope that, moving forward, the Ripple Team accepts that it is serving a different purpose than Bitcoin, and that co-existence is possible and even desirable, as many of us on this side of the fence have gradually done regarding Ripple and similar efforts.
Featured image from Shutterstock.