Footnotes and agnostic ledgers are not for everyone

Judge Richard Posner does not care for footnotes (pdf).

On the other hand, I use them copiously because they allow me to continue the conversation and provide additional references that would otherwise distract the reader from the main body.

Other examples are, Ken Shirriff, who has some excellent info nuggets he places in these articles:

Similarly, “gwern” does a great job using footnotes.  In fact one particular piece (which my friend Taariq Lewis recently rehighlighted) stands out in particular: Bitcoin is Worse is Better.

While gwern’s piece is great in-and-of itself, one of the footnotes that I have pondered over the past few months (I’ve probably read the piece 3 times) is footnote #4 which links to one of Satoshi’s first known public emails, stating in November 2008 that he had been working on this project for about the previous 18 months.  That he actually built the software first and then wrote the whitepaper to describe it.12

The reason this is important in my mind is that I think (and will likely be stoned for saying this) is that Bitcoin itself has probably been misrepresented by various special interest groups.  Specifically, individuals that keep pointing to Satoshi’s purported motivation for this — to defuse future financial crisis’ — are likely incorrect.  Again, he/she/they built the software first before writing the white paper which describes what was built (hence the reason why the code was in working order when he/she/they released it in January ’09).   Thus he did so prior to any of the key events of the financial crisis.  Sure he did sign the genesis block with “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks” however it would be a stretch to conclude his exact motivations without him specifically stating them.3  Furthermore, Satoshi only mentions the word “libertarian” once in all of his writings (on the mailing list [here] just a few days after releasing the whitepaper; and not on the forum) and none of his posts were particularly geared towards politics, in fact he seemed to have a desire not to have Bitcoin put in the political hotseat (he specifically asked Wikileaks not to accept bitcoin).4 5 And while he did post one comment about economic scarcity, utility and value, it was unrelated to politics.6

I briefly touched on this in my own footnote in chapter 5, stating that while the protocol could conceivably track other assets and token values, that it was not initially intended as such from day 1, rather it was intended as a way to create a trustless form of payments, “One of the primary reasons this was the case is because Satoshi Nakamoto intentionally created Bitcoin for that purpose, hence the full name of the paper “A peer-to-peer electronic cash system” – the first section of the whitepaper discusses the problems people have with paying for things online; it was not a manifesto.”7

His political and philosophical inclinations are neither here nor there.  He could have been a member of any political organization yet Bitcoin itself is just a tool.  It would be akin to saying that all databases and accounting ledgers should conform to Republican ideals or Democrat ideals or Socialist ideals.  Databases are tools, Bitcoin is a tool.  The code is open-sourced and will likely be adopted and used in numerous environments and circumstances that could very well be, non-ideological (e.g., backoffice for financial institutions, medical records for hospitals & HMOs, property title tracking in developing countries). 8

Just as very little of Linus’ original codebase still exists in in Linux, 75% of the Bitcoin code is now non-Satoshi based.  While the first application of this trustless system that ended up correlated with the protocol, fiat value, there likely will be any number of uses for both a decentralized and centralized cryptoledger and may in fact, end up used inside the very institutions that politically motivated individuals would rather have them not.

It is impossible to say either way, perhaps Darkwallet, Zerocoin and Darkcoin will be the killer-apps that bring in billions of users or maybe nationally mined cryptocurrencies (like proto examples such as Auroracoin or Mazacoin) will become more widely used.9 Either way, early adopters in this new segment are incredibly creative, innovative and passionate — I have been very fortunate to correspond with many of them over the past several months.  Yet my doubts as to whether these projects will succeed are unimportant because the wallets of market participants collectively will decide what will succeed and what will be purged.  Thus, don’t rule out anything, including the footnotes.

  1. He mentions the 2007 timeframe also in the forum, see these three posts: Re: Questions about Bitcoin, Transactions and Scripts: DUP HASH160 … EQUALVERIFY CHECKSIG and Re: MSVC build & SHA-256 []
  2. He states early in the mailing list that he did it backwards, writing code first then writing the white paper, see the last comment on November 9th, Re: Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper []
  3. This is based on a real article from The Times, Chancellor Alistair Darling on brink of second bailout for banks []
  4. He specifically stated that “I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin.  Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy.  You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.”  See Re: Wikileaks contact info? and Re: PC World Article on Bitcoin []
  5. He did have one semi-political statement regarding censorship on November 9th, Re: Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper []
  6. See Re: Bitcoin does NOT violate Mises’ Regression Theorem []
  7. This is in footnote 57 in chapter 5.  Be sure to also read Mike Hearn’s germane comment at github. []
  8. Satoshi did prefer public domain works over other proprietary licenses.  He designed and released the original logo/icons to the public domain.  He also posted several comments about releasing code under either an MIT license or public domain, see for example: Re: Switch to GPL []
  9. See As Auroracoin “Airdrop” Approaches, What Does It Mean When A Nation Adopts A Cryptocurrency? from TechCrunch and Lakota Indian Promotes New Digital Currency, Mazacoin from The Wall Street Journal []
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