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Beyond the doomsday economics of "proof-of-work" in cryptocurrencies

Author

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  • Auer, Raphael

Abstract

This paper discusses the economics of how Bitcoin achieves data immutability, and thus payment finality, via costly computations, ie "proof-of-work". Further, it explores what the future might hold for cryptocurrencies modelled on this type of consensus algorithm. The conclusions are, first, that Bitcoin counterfeiting via "double-spending" attacks is inherently profitable, making payment finality based on proof-of-work extremely expensive. Second, the transaction market cannot generate an adequate level of "mining" income via fees as users free-ride on the fees of other transactions in a block and in the subsequent blockchain. Instead, newly minted bitcoins, known as block rewards, have made up the bulk of mining income to date. Looking ahead, these two limitations imply that liquidity is set to fall dramatically as these block rewards are phased out. Simple calculations suggest that once block rewards are zero, it could take months before a Bitcoin payment is final, unless new technologies are deployed to speed up payment finality. Second-layer solutions such as the Lightning Network might help, but the only fundamental remedy would be to depart from proof-of-work, which would probably require some form of social coordination or institutionalisation.

Suggested Citation

  • Auer, Raphael, 2019. "Beyond the doomsday economics of "proof-of-work" in cryptocurrencies," CEPR Discussion Papers 13506, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:13506
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Huberman, Gur & Leshno, Jacob & Moalleni, Ciamac, 2017. "Monopoly Without a Monopolist: An Economic Analysis of the Bitcoin Payment System," CEPR Discussion Papers 12322, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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    7. Eric Budish, 2018. "The Economic Limits of Bitcoin and the Blockchain," NBER Working Papers 24717, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    9. Curzio Giannini, 2011. "The Age of Central Banks," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 14371.
    10. Rainer Böhme & Nicolas Christin & Benjamin Edelman & Tyler Moore, 2015. "Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 29(2), pages 213-238, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Silvia Bartolucci & Andrei Kirilenko, 2019. "A Model of the Optimal Selection of Crypto Assets," Papers 1906.09632, arXiv.org.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Bitcoin; blockchain; cryptocurrencies; Digital Currencies; distributed ledger technology; ethereum; Finance; money; proof-of-stake; Proof-of-Work;

    JEL classification:

    • D20 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - General
    • D40 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - General
    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E51 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Money Supply; Credit; Money Multipliers
    • F31 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Exchange
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
    • G28 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G38 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
    • L50 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - General

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