XRP's Centralization

Feb 17, 2018

You'll hear over and over and over, "Ripple is centralized!!! They must die!! AUGH!!!"

Beside the fact that both Bitcoin's creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, would disagree, and Ethereum's creator, Vitalik Buterin, also disagrees, let's all calm down for a minute and try to figure out what the various definitions for centralization could mean exactly.

Centralization is a very broad term that encompasses a number of concepts, so to say something is "centralized", isn't saying much at all, but I do think the ultimate subtext of these accusations is the fear of being defrauded of your funds because of the misperception that there is "trust" required. This cannot be further from the truth; I'll explain:

Here's how I see the variations in intent of using that word:

1) Centralized meaning: Concentration of control over the immutability of the ledger (aka possible double-spending, or spend reversals) because XRP uses distributed validators instead of full decentralization

Before I get into my response to this, I'd like to highlight that there are three primary configurations for all types of ledgers (not just blockchain ledgers):

  • Centralized (one entity ensures the data integrity). Obviously, centralized configurations are easily modified and aren't easy to trust (think Mt. Gox, banks, your accounting spreadsheet).

  • Distributed (many trusted entities ensuring data integrity). Distributed configurations become exponentially increasingly trustworthy the larger they get because fraud requires all to participate, to the point where collusion of ALL validators to commit fraud becomes virtually impossible.

  • Fully decentralized (all users participate in ensuring the data integrity). Decentralized configurations are probably the most trustworthy in its difficult-to-realize idealistic form, but are very inefficient at achieving consensus.

Now that that's out of the way. There are many rumors persisting even now that the XRP ledger is something controlled by and easily altered by Ripple. Not true at all. XRP is an open-source "distributed" ledger. While not utilizing a "decentralized" configuration like Bitcoin, control of the data in the XRP ledger is also not "centralized" into Ripple, even though Ripple currently has the majority of validators. The most important aspect of comparing "centralization" versus "not being centralized".. is the possibility of fraud. I hope to demonstrate that XRP being "distributed" versus "decentralized" doesn't intrinsically increase or decrease the possibility of fraud.

Anyone can download and run an XRP ledger node, and the XRP ledger can survive even if Ripple collapses as a company. That's the first part of being "distributed". And while it's true that Ripple currently represents and hosts the majority of trusted validator nodes, they've mandated to become completely "distributed" by adding many more trusted partner validators until Ripple is a minority validator. Even the way things are at this moment (early 2018) with Ripple as the majority validator, for Ripple to change the ledger would be impossible to do without getting caught, all the partners would know and would have to cooperate in order for Ripple to succeed in this fraud!

Do you really think Ripple could get away with that? It would require the collusion of so many big name companies to join the conspiracy in order to make the fraud a success, that the conspiracy required is nothing short of fantasy. It's not like when ethereum rammed a fork down everyone's throat to recover some money, there was nobody that would stop them. That's not an option for XRP, simply because no partner validator would want to be in the middle of that controversy.

You have to realize that for these partner validators, their buy-in IS the credibility of the concept; there's no way they'd be a party to a scam. In other words, Ripple could never change the ledger because it would require all the validators' cooperation, and that's not remotely possible. So get it out of your head that Ripple is risky because the ledger isn't YET fully distributed (soon though), even now it's as effectively immutable as what Bitcoin is thought to be.

Which takes us to the notion of Bitcoin being immutable; or is it? If you study it enough, you'll understand it takes just over 50% of the total mining power to create the possibility of 'double-spending'. Right now, 5 of the top mining pools represents well over 50% of the total global hashrate, or put another way, the 5 people that control these mining pools, could conceivably collude to corrupt Bitcoin and attempt to double-spend.

As unlikely as it seems, what would seem more likely to you? 5 relatively obscure shifty mining pool operators colluding?, or dozens of very large corporations colluding to falsify the XRP ledger in plain sight which would immediately destroy XRP? Exactly. Bitcoin is FAR FAR more exposed to corruption due to its effective lack of meaningful decentralization than Ripple CURRENTLY is, and that gap will widen enormously as more and more XRP partner validators come online and XRP becomes truly distributed. Bitcoin will never again be as secure a ledger as XRP is and will be in the future.

I've also read often from people, if Ripple controls who's in the trusted validator network, then they effectively control XRP! ?? What does that mean exactly? They control who's in the validators list, yes, which indirectly allows them to control the evolution of the code, yes, and that's a great thing that avoids forked doppleganger XRPs (like the endless Bitcoin clones), and also gives us the quickest feature-adding path. However, this doesn't make XRP more exposed to fraud whatsoever because, quite simply, fraud is usually performed with some profit-oriented agenda, but any attempt to manipulate the ledger would be publicly visible and immediately destroy all trust in it.

Why would they do that? They already have BILLIONS of legitimate dollars worth in XRP holdings. Why why why would they fuck with the ledger and destroy their golden cashcow??? What could they possibly gain?? The mere fact that they DO have so much invested in XRP should be evidence enough that they'd never do anything to destroy any trust in their precious asset, which means that because they have such control over who's in the network, you better believe it's with the intent of preserving and increasing the value of XRP. To think Ripple would do anything other than help XRP is really really stupid.

"Well what if the government steps in and tells Ripple to self-destruct? They couldn't stop Bitcoin like that!" Believe me, if the governments wanted to shut down crypto, they could and would've done it a long time ago, for all coins, yes even Bitcoin. Don't think they couldn't make it damn near impossible to work with crypto when they can control all the portals of converting to cash; forcing every aspect of crypto underground, far far out of the reaches of the average person's willingness to participate. If they made all of today's exchanges illegal, how much would a Bitcoin be worth then? Almost nothing. Think decentralized exchanges might save crypto? I don't know, I think a similar economic model can be found in drug cartels. Probably not your dream of crypto realized in that capacity, right?

It doesn't matter if the Bitcoin ledger can't be eliminated, it's the value of Bitcoin that CAN be if the governments really put the hammer down. Therefore, the fact that the ripple validator nodes can all be easily isolated and shut down by the government, simply means that war was declared on crypto as a whole, and no coin will be safe, making Ripple's exposure in this capacity moot. If the governments stepped in, crypto would go back to the dark ages, and stay there, so who cares if Ripple's got an obvious self-destruct button that the government can hit, all coins have that button in some form or another; no coin lives in a vacuum.

In summary, this definition of "centralized" as some form of compromising of the immutability of the ledger, not only doesn't apply to Ripple or XRP (XRP is distributed, not centralized), but is actually blind faith that decentralization somehow escapes these same nefarious forces; and that's a myth.

2) Centralized meaning: Concentration of control over the evolution of the coin

This definition of centralization should hopefully be perceived as a positive thing by this point in the evolution of crypto. Simply look at the mess created every time Bitcoin forks. Segwit, Segwit 2, trust-required Lightning network appendage, fewer full nodes, all this in-fighting, a new "Bitcoin" every fork.. No this one's the real one, no this one, no this one!!

The Bitcoin project has run its course. It's blowing up at the seams and every fix comes with a glut of consequences that just further confuses the investor pool, making it scary to put your money into any variation of Bitcoin lest it be deprecated and you're left holding the bag.

On the other hand, if you have XRP, despite nearly 100 code updates to improve every aspect of it, and probably 100s more updates to add even more incredible features (e.g. Codius? Watch out Ethereum, clock is ticking), there will only ever be one XRP coin. The XRP coin you buy today will be the same one you have 100 versions from now. Now try and tell me that centralized development of a coin is a bad thing. Moreover, Ripple will never have to beg a greedy mining pool to upgrade its rippled software, that's the beauty of the trusted validator nodes, one unified evolution.

Let's also not forget that Bitcoin is predominantly developed by a consistent small group of developers, and the Bitcoind app is published from one website. That also sounds like centralized development to me. I doubt I could contribute some code to Bitcoin without bearing the scrutiny of the Bitcoin portal owners, dig? Same for Ethereum, you're not getting anything past Vitalek. All coins are centralized in development.

In summary, yes Ripple's control over the XRP ledger codebase is centralized, and that's proven to be a great thing.

3) Centralized meaning: Concentration of percentage of coins in Ripple's possession

In this context, the primary difference to Bitcoin is solely the inability to mine XRP. This does not matter. Assuming Bitcoin doesn't disintegrate, in approximately 100 years, you will also not be able to mine Bitcoin AND there will STILL be large majority holders of Bitcoin even then. Would it make sense to hate on Bitcoin when you can't mine it either? Of course not, that would be stupid. I'd even go so far as to say that Satoshi and friends' mining hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin the first year in total isolation is as near to pre-mining as it needs to get to make the distinction irrelevant.

What's more important than just the fact that the creators of any coin have a lot of them, is what these premined coins are destined for. Let's ask Satoshi.. I see, hookers and blackjack, excellent. Let's ask Ripple.. Building out a globally disruptive technology that will open access to the global economic playing field for every person on Earth. Hmm. Ok, Brad might have some left over for hookers and blackjack as well, but at least he's not sketchily hiding in..fear? Shame? Vegas?

There's also this persistent irrational fearmongering that because Ripple has so many XRP, that they could drop a pile on the exchanges and destroy the price of XRP. Ok, here's an experiment for you. Take a knife, and stab yourself in the eye... waiting... still waiting.. No? Why didn't you do it? Let's think this through shall we? Stabbing yourself in the eye is INSANE. You are not capable of willfully hurting yourself to this capacity. Likewise, you probably wouldn't starve yourself to death, nor pull all your life savings out of your bank and throw it out the car window at top speed.

So, if you can sit there and rationalize all the ways you aren't going to destroy your life, why is it so hard for you to see that Ripple has no desire to slaughter XRP by dumping all their coins on the market?? It just wouldn't make sense! Even if they consistently sold just enough to not drop the price but prevent it from growing, it would become uninteresting to investors eventually, and still it would crash. So you see, they can't barely sell any of it (relatively speaking) without hurting themselves in the process. Ripple does not want to stab their eyes out for the same reasons you don't; just trust in survival instincts, ok?

In summary, centralization of so much XRP assets in the hands of Ripple does not in any way represent a threat, and if anything, gives Ripple the ability to magnify the value of XRP through constructive distribution and redemption.

4) Centralized meaning: Concentration of wealth

Bitcoin, Ethereum (public chain), and all the other shitcoins have already proven that blockchains and whitepapers alone do not unlock the quintillions of dollars flowing in our global economy. That takes productization far beyond the mere simple existence of a coin, it takes thousands of compelling macroeconomics, software, encryption, business, etc. experts all working under strong leadership in a unified direction. A blockchain is the smallest piece of the puzzle, the rest is hard work and TONS of cash to pay for salaries and business expenses. This is why so much XRP remains "centralized" in Ripple's possession (sorta, it's escrowed just out of reach), to be able to get Ripple adoption to the point of critical mass. Penetration into mainstream economics could never happen any other way.

Ripple needs the ability to seed the world's influential financial institutions with XRP capital, they want to have the clout to subdue the malevolent whales on the markets, and they want to steward the health and viability of their product line. This is "smart business", and centralization in this regard is the key to success. If you think they have too much money, then you probably think Microsoft, Apple, Buffet, Rockefellers, and pretty much anybody that has more than you, is unjustifiably rich. And while that's great philosophical topic fodder, it's not unique to Ripple, so stop demonizing Ripple for being a successful company just like any other successful company; it does not illegitimize or immoralize XRP.

My absolute favorite is the notion of the founders getting TOO rich because they hold so much personal reserves of XRP! Lol. Cmon, this topic is so broad in nature that to single-out Ripple is just fanatical. There are so many billionaires on this planet, some of which affect our daily lives, Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and I'm sure Buffet has tentacles into many of your daily experiences one way or another. Point is, Ripple is a very successful company and the founders made it big. Why do you fucking care? Does that affect the quality of the product? Certainly not; the wealth of the founder has zero bearing on how you should be evaluating XRP, seriously.

But what if the founders dump their holdings all at once, like Jed might? Well, Jed can't, his coins are contractually meted out to him, he doesn't have them all in his possession. And sure, the possibility exists that Brad or Chris could decide to stab themselves in the eyes, but that seems unlikely right? Even if they did, they're only 5% of the total holdings each, which may shake the ecosystem for a while, but probably wouldn't destroy it. They certainly couldn't unilaterally dump Ripple's XRP holdings onto the market, it's all in escrow for that very reason! In other words, Ripple or its founders or its partners will never have access to enough liquid XRP at one time to be able to destroy XRP.

In contrast, there are suspicions that a very few, or even a single whale was responsible for driving the first Bitcoin wave up to and over $1000 so long ago. It's these nefarious whales that exist in every coin, and cause all these wild price fluctuations that are the real problem. If anything, Ripple's massive reserves of XRP can serve as a dampener or even eliminator of the forces of whales. This strategic war chest will be what separates XRP from the other coins that cannot control their distribution as effectively. Also, over 80% of Bitcoin's mining is done in China (at the time of writing), try to tell me that's fulfilling the libertarian dream.

In summary, hating the rich has nothing to do with the quality of XRP. All coins have their millionaires and billionaires, so stop singling out Ripple with this non-issue.

And finally to my XRP friends, fear not, the incessant drumbeat of the FUD factories we are currently swimming in will become imperceptible background noise as the real FI money being poured into XRP accelerates. If the XRP critics got anything right, it's that XRP is not like the others. Sure, XRP is a cryptocurrency by technical definition, but that's where the similarities to other cryptos end. As an integral part of Ripple's utility, XRP will pass through all artificially-imposed FUD-barriers with the methodical and elegant flow of a meandering neutron star, sending countless electrifying tethers into every conceivable nook and cranny of global value exchange. I'm just glad to be smart enough to appreciate the unfolding of civilization's greatest evolution yet.

I wonder if aliens will now consider us worthy of communion.

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