CFDP 2204R

Bitcoin: An Impossibility Theorem for Proof-of-Work based Protocols


Publication Date: October 2019

Revision Date: November 2019

Pages: 18


Bitcoin’s main innovation lies in allowing a decentralized system that relies on anonymous, profit driven miners who can freely join the system. We formalize these properties in three axioms: anonymity of miners, no incentives for miners to consolidate, and no incentive to assuming multiple fake identities. This novel axiomatic formalization allows us to characterize which other protocols are feasible: Every protocol with these properties must have the same reward scheme as Bitcoin. This implies an impossibility result for risk-averse miners: no protocol satisfies the aforementioned constraints simultaneously without giving miners a strict incentive to merge. Furthermore, any protocol either gives up on some degree of decentralization or its reward scheme is equivalent to Bitcoin’s.

Keywords: Bitcoin, Random Selection, Proportional Selection Rule, Impossibility Theorem

JEL Classification Codes: C72, D02, D47

JEL Classification Codes: C72D02D47

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See CFDP Version(s): CFDP 2204