In which we discuss Datskovskiy's discussion of MPEx

Friday, 08 February, Year 5 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Motto : The Meta-er, the merrier.

I was originally going to make a comment there, but he uses a captcha doohickey and I hate those.

I admire the man’s optimism, but to me it reads a bit like: in the event of MPEx being thrown off the roof of a skyscraper, we intend to invent the parachute on the way down.

I believe this analogy to be wildly inaccurate, for two reasons. The first is that anyone interested may at any point download a copy of MPEx's database, sufficient to reconstruct everyone's ownership at that moment. Should I release the corresponding private key at any point in the future, any party holding both the key and a copy of the database may fully reconstruct MPEx as it was at that point in time. The second is that I may at any point dump on the torrents a text file containing every asset's holder list, encrypted with the asset owner's public key of record.

There's nothing anyone can practically do to stop either of these. The set of recipients of either set of data aren't particularly limited : at the time you take MPEx offline you don't know who has already downloaded the database back-up and you don't know who will in the future download the asset list torrent. Even should you be able to obtain the complete list of either set, you have no practical way to find who was able to decode it, or for that matter prove someone did decode it (obviously the respective parties may elect to publish proof, but if they don't you're stuck).

Taking MPEx out would be an inconvenience (I presume trading would be stopped for whatever interval) but not something life threatening, and so it's not the case of "thrown off the roof of a skyscraper". It's something more along the lines of "should anyone step on our toe, we will extract a large metal piece and a long wooden handle, methodically assemble the hammer and whack the offender once over the head with this entirely novel and unexpected apparatus"i.

I understand Popescu’s reluctance to discuss details of MPEx’s contingency plans within earshot of the enemy, I really do. But the tight lips and inexplicable bravado ought to raise some eyebrows.

On one hand, there's really no enemies. Not of MPEx particularly, not of Bitcoin more generally. We have literally no reason to suspect there are any. The European Central Bank issued a cautious report discussing Bitcoin and mentioning that it may pose some credibility challenges to that institution. A SEC representative did contact some people right after the collapse of the pirate ponzi, and from reports graciously allowed a motley crue of rather strange characters talk its metaphorical ear off in the usual, rambly, nonsensical way Joe Bitcoiner communicates.

Neither of these are in any way hostile. Neither of these are at all enmitous. If anything, they're a generous if unjustified waste of taxpayer's funds, and for the record if I were running either institution I wouldn't have considered them an expedient, effective or efficacious application of public moneys. I can understand the naturally arising siege mentality in small groups, I can understand the amplification effect in isolated groups, I can understand that for a variety of reasons numerous bitcoiners have a particular view of the state and its institutions. Still, the man with a moustache doesn't hate you just because you hate men with moustaches.

On the other hand, I suspect it's not a problem of tight lippedness as much as precisely the reverse. There is already so very much documentation published about MPEx, I've made so many comments and participated in so many discussions, on top of which there's so incredibly vast a pool of (mostly clueless) commentary that I imagine finding answers to one's questions is more hindered by abundance than by scarcity. In any case I am pretty sure I've stated the points further above at least a few times in a few different places.

Yes, there are a great many off-putting aspects to MPEx. Its home, Romania: the land of countless spammers who have never seen the inside of a jail;

As far as I know (from looking at my own spamlogs, at least) most spam comes from China, the Ukraine and Brazil, roughly in that order. Romania always was and probably will remain for the foreseeable future a major player in anything to do with computers. This, of course, includes hacking computer systems. Just the way the cookie crumbles.

the fact that its relationship with traditional meatspace commerce and law is quite murky (Is MPOE incorporated? Where? What are its liabilities? Has anyone won legal redress from it for any perceived wrong, in a traditional court?)

This point was mostly addressed in a previous article. To quote :

With the advent of Bitcoin the last rope grounding Internet to Real World, ie bank accounts has been severed. From here on there’s absolutely no need for an Internet something to be “based” anywhere.

So, unless somewhere that wants an Internet something to be based there makes an excellent offer, that Internet something just… isn’t based anywhere.

Taking bids. They’d better be very good.

Other than that, no one has to date won any sort of legal redress from it for any perceived wrong in a traditional court, nor does it seem likely or indeed at all possible that anyone ever will. For what it's worth there was an aborted attempt at resolving this problem correctly. The problem is still unresolved, for Bitcoin in general.

So, either BTC is a “game currency” and MPEx is a toy (and children ought to be able to purchase time on it with their lunch money) or BTC is serious adult business, fit to displace the New York Stock Exchange when its hour comes. Which is it?

Time will tell, won't it. Toys have this nasty habit of displacing the "serious" stuff as generations follow each other, which nasty habit doesn't make them any less toys.

Popescu insists that his contigency plan will allow MPEx to operate regardless of what any government might do. It will, he insists, carry on as a massively distributed peer-to-peer system. What interest might Popescu have in a fully-decentralized Bitcoin stock exchange? Well, presumably he will own it, and reap the profits. But I confess that I am rather unclear on the concept of how a genuinely peer-to-peer system could have an owner.

A previous article hinted at the error of confusing currency and marketplace. There is a fundamental difference between these two, roughly of the nature of the difference between a sexual partner and lubricant. For satisfying romps it is necessary that the lubricant be uniform, fungible, clear and in thermic equlibrium with the participants. The qualities that make for good lube however make for very poor sexual partners. Indeed, we'd rather partners themselves were not uniform but idiosyncratic, not fungible but quite exceptional, not copacetic but hot and so forth.

Just so is the case with Bitcoins and markets : it makes perfect sense for the currency itself to be decentralized. It makes absolutely no sense at all for the marketplace to be decentralized. In fact, a decentralized market is about as much a market as a deenginized car is a car. The market is precisely where economic agents come together, that's what it does, it centralizes trade. Further, it is sensible for the currency itself to be as trustless as possible, and thus mechanisms that implement trustlessness are a net gain in that field. A market can never exist at all without trust, and so mechanisms that purportedly implement "trustlessness" are nothing but clunk in this field.

These theoretical considerations are well backed by observing reality : there is at least one example of a functioning marketplace that is peer-to-peer and is not decentralized - that thing where allegedly various controlled substances are traded currently and have been traded for years. There are numerous examples of failed "marketplaces" which supposedly implemented some degree of decentralisation (GLBSE would count as a fine example, among the few others).

So, let us not confuse ourselves. I will probably never turn MPEx into some sort of "you know, like Bitcoin" (and for the record I will never buy a blockchain-based garlic press, either). I might, if need be and I judge it expedient, move the entire thing over to Tor, or for that matter build a Tor just for MPEx.

Ah, but it must have an owner. Popescu and his friends have to eat, after all.

This is not particularly a cogent consideration. Leaving aside that I had plenty to eat before becoming involved at all, and leaving aside that simply sitting on my Bitcoin stash will probably feed an army, the reason MPEx must have an owner is simply that the buck has to stop somewhere. Any and all attempts of constructing ownerless systems will necessarily result in reimplementations of the majority of flaws, drawbacks and disadvantages the fiat system currently displays, and that as a best case scenario.

Having an owner is the best thing that can happen, and not just for an exchange but for people too. The tragedy of our times is the incredible scarcity of competent owners that can be bothered owning things (in which we, of course, include people), even if socialist ideology and ideogalagyii would like to persuade of the contrary.

Anything with an identifiable meatspace owner can be destroyed by a bureaucrat in the blink of an eye.

The owner is currently identifiable strictly because he has chosen to be identifiable. Should an unfortunate accident befal him the next owner will probably be less inclined to indulge. The current incarnation of said owner is conceivably said bureaucrat's last and only chance to discuss the matter, before being himself (along with the bureaucratic system he is part of and the very possibility of such a system for all time) crushed - also in the blink of an eye - by this novel monster "we" have unleashed upon the world.

Among technologists, a disdain for “human” emotional mishmash is almost a universal. Yet it remains a character flaw. By rejecting the seemingly-irrelevant world of human trust-building (beyond strict adherence to promises) one asks to be thought of as a mechanism. That is, to be reasoned about game-theoretically. And reasonable people will sit around and try to predict exactly when and in what manner you, the master of reasoned thought, will betray them. To his credit, Popescu appears to be making this tradeoff consciously. The disdain of Internet chatterers neither picks his pockets nor breaks his bones. But at some point, when the MPOE gravy train comes to a halt, MPEx might find it necessary to stop ignoring these aspects of public relations.

I would venture the guess that this train of thought is more an artefact of the lens than a property of the bug. On which score, to recount an old joke : A scientist catches a flea. He places the flea on a piece of paper and orders : Jump! The flea jumps. The scientist takes careful note : if ordered to jump, the flea jumps. Next, he carefuly removes the flea's hind legs and orders again : Jump! The flea stands still. The scientist takes further careful note : if hind legs removed, flea becomes deaf.

———
  1. And I quote,

    I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile. Even in retrospect there was nothing to suggest that.

    Also nobody anticipated the breach of the levees. []

  2. The Romanian word for ruckus, noise is "galagie". I happen to think it's a fine word. []
Category: Bitcoin, MPEx
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4 Responses

  1. [10] As I gather, the MPEx PR department currently consists of one person, paid to post pictures of pretty girls in Bitcoin forums.

    Is this a problem and if so, why?

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    2
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 9 February 2013

    It's possibly the furtherst from reality point in the entire discussion lol

  3. Devil's Advocate would say that the Americans will act suddenly and decisively to ensure that no one gets a copy of your private key to pick up the torch and build MPEx-II. Or worse, that *more than one* party gets a copy. (Which MPEx-clone will be the Schelling point for users?)

    Another thing: doesn't one need something more than just the database to operate a proper MPEx? The real-world brokerage access, for instance. Or do you pay aluminum futures holders out of your own pockets when aluminum goes up? I've been assuming so far that MPEx is genuinely, if loosely, coupled with meatspace markets.

    And I admit to being rather perplexed when you say that Bitcoin and MPEx have no serious enemies, and then go on to speak of how said systems will utterly destroy the ability of the world's present-day rulers to rule. Bureaucrats are dumb, but they aren't that dumb. And eventually they will do something motivated by pure brutality and insulted manhood: say, pillage the major exchanges.

    And did I misread this piece, or did you actually write that markets need strong central planners to function?

    I'm with you 100% on the usefulness of wise owners. But I regard Bitcoin as interesting primarily because it is a (moderately) successful experiment in ownerless systems. Much of my criticism of MPEx stems from this fact: that it is a kind of strategic retreat from the decentralization experiment.

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    4
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 9 February 2013

    Devil’s Advocate would say that the Americans will act suddenly and decisively to ensure that no one gets a copy of your private key to pick up the torch and build MPEx-II. Or worse, that *more than one* party gets a copy. (Which MPEx-clone will be the Schelling point for users?)

    The first part may not be something one can decisively influence. The second part may not be much of a problem, depending (mostly on whether there's a point of having a MPEx2 or not in the first place).

    Another thing: doesn’t one need something more than just the database to operate a proper MPEx? The real-world brokerage access, for instance. Or do you pay aluminum futures holders out of your own pockets when aluminum goes up? I’ve been assuming so far that MPEx is genuinely, if loosely, coupled with meatspace markets.

    The various rw-futures kinda died an ignominous death (see misc section). Absolutely no volume on them, possibly for the very reasons discussed in How does one list on MPEx ? :

    4. Clear BTC revenue streams. If you don’t take in principally BTC, listing you as a BTC denominated asset makes absolutely zero sense, for a number of reasons. One is that investing in you would be de facto a divestment from BTC, and people in BTC don’t want to divest. Another would be that BTC/USD volatility would induce share price and P/E ratio volatility in your asset, making it unsuitable for rational investing.

    And I admit to being rather perplexed when you say that Bitcoin and MPEx have no serious enemies, and then go on to speak of how said systems will utterly destroy the ability of the world’s present-day rulers to rule. Bureaucrats are dumb, but they aren’t that dumb. And eventually they will do something motivated by pure brutality and insulted manhood: say, pillage the major exchanges.

    This is seriously nonsense. Did email destroy the Post Office ? Where exactly did the Postmaster General (whose job is to by God get things done) violently assault hotmail or something ? Outside of a Seinfeld sketch I mean.

    And did I misread this piece, or did you actually write that markets need strong central planners to function?

    Markets don't need central planners at all, strong or weak. They do however need to be centralised. An exchange in which Frank hands over an envelope in which he might have put some silver in exchange for a satchel in which Wayne may have put some potatoes is not a market in any sense of that term. The only way they can actually trade is by going to some place where there's a potato weight and a silver proofing mechanism. Markets centralize trade, this is what they do, this is what they are. A "decentralized market" is much akin to a football field on which an arbitrary number of scoreboards keep the "local" score, whatever that may happen to locally mean.

    I’m with you 100% on the usefulness of wise owners. But I regard Bitcoin as interesting primarily because it is a (moderately) successful experiment in ownerless systems. Much of my criticism of MPEx stems from this fact: that it is a kind of strategic retreat from the decentralization experiment.

    Bitcoin has certain indisputable advantages, which I maintain MPEx uses to their fullest extent. To my eyes your objection reduces to MPEx not using them past their actual utility, something like condoms are healthy so let's wear them to bed whether we lie with a woman or alone, this rifle is cool so let's take with us everywhere, including fishing, whitewater rafting, scuba diving and so forth.

    Principally the disctinction lies along the line of the difference between "ownerless systems" and "trustless currency". Bitcoin is a way to implement accounting that requires you trust relatively few things - accounting is not a substitute for economic activity, but just a measurement thereof. An "ownerless system" by contrast would be some sort of nonsensical post-socialist utopia thing. It has no place in this world (and for that matter most people think they own Bitcoins, are you saying they're deluding themselves ?)

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