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

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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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    Cited by:

    1. Jonathan Chiu & Thorsten V. Koeppl, 2017. "The Economics Of Cryptocurrencies - Bitcoin And Beyond," Working Paper 1389, Economics Department, Queen's University.
    2. Raphael A. Auer & David Tercero-Lucas, 2021. "Distrust or Speculation? The Socioeconomic Drivers of U.S. Cryptocurrency Investments," CESifo Working Paper Series 9287, CESifo.
    3. Tim Roughgarden, 2021. "Transaction Fee Mechanism Design," Papers 2106.01340, arXiv.org, revised Aug 2021.
    4. Rod Garratt & Maarten van Oordt, 2020. "Why Fixed Costs Matter for Proof-of-Work Based Cryptocurrencies," Staff Working Papers 20-27, Bank of Canada.
    5. Raphael Auer & David Tercero-Lucas, 2021. "Distrust or speculation? the socioeconomic drivers of U.S. cryptocurrency investments," BIS Working Papers 951, Bank for International Settlements.
    6. Silvia Bartolucci & Andrei Kirilenko, 2019. "A Model of the Optimal Selection of Crypto Assets," Papers 1906.09632, arXiv.org.
    7. Hossein Nabilou, 2020. "Testing the waters of the Rubicon: the European Central Bank and central bank digital currencies," Journal of Banking Regulation, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 21(4), pages 299-314, December.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    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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