Roger Ver was right about Bitcoin

“Hijacking Bitcoin” is a damning indictment of the turmoil and nastiness that plagued the Bitcoin community after Satoshi disappeared


If you’ve been in crypto for even as long as five years, there’s a pretty good chance that you haven’t heard of Roger Ver.

If you have heard of him, your perception may be of a controversial figure, either by his moniker “Bitcoin Jesus,” his current love for Bitcoin Cash, or by his widespread portrayal in the media as a “very bad influence that you shouldn’t play with” (note that this is how I myself referenced him in 2019).

With all of that in mind — and despite the fact that Ver sent me about $10 in Bitcoin Cash after an interview (hence the Bitcoin Jesus name) — I set out to read his new book, Hijacking Bitcoin, with the hunch that this would be my first book review pan. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, after finishing Hijacking Bitcoin, my opinion now stands that Bitcoin truly was hijacked, and Ver really was the subject of what has now been an almost decade-long smear campaign. 

But even if you remove every bit of conjecture that Ver includes in his history of Bitcoin’s early development, it remains a damning indictment of the turmoil and nastiness that plagued the community after Satoshi Nakamoto took his permanent step back. 

I thought that Hijacking Bitcoin, written by both Ver and academic Steve Patterson, would be full of spicy conspiracy theories. What I got instead was a measured history of Bitcoin’s development and the blocksize wars, written from the perspective of a clearly very frustrated Ver taking an opportunity to get his side of the story out all at once.

While you won’t get much insight into the many personal conflicts that Ver must have experienced as one of Bitcoin’s first investors and proponents, I see the choice to leave the emotional aside as his attempt to reach a wider audience. Far fewer people would want to read a history book written by an angry historian with a clear vendetta. And regardless of my initial expectations, that’s not what this is at all.

At its core, Hijacking Bitcoin seeks to create a historical record of the myriad ways that Bitcoin’s development has evolved since Satoshi’s original invention made it to the web in 2009. 

Bitcoin was initially envisioned as a scalable, electronic cash system. Without getting too into the technical details, the book’s main thesis is an attempt to catalog how Bitcoin has since morphed into the fee-heavy, store of value currency it is today.

As Ver writes: “Even if you like the changes that Bitcoin Core has made, the historical record is clear that they radically differ from the original design […] It should be clear that it’s not a question of whether Bitcoin Core changed the original design. The question is whether you like their changes.”

The changes Ver refers to are the controversial “block size wars,” a period marked by an intense struggle over the direction of Bitcoin’s underlying technology. At the heart of the fierce debate was the question of block size: The maximum amount of transaction data that a block in the blockchain could hold. 

While Satoshi Nakamoto had set a 1MB cap in the year or so after Bitcoin’s launch, it was meant to be a temporary solution. But don’t take Ver’s word for it, for Satoshi did at one point write online: “The eventual solution will be to not care how big it gets.”

When Bitcoin became more widely known and began to scale, the 1MB limit created a bottleneck in transactions. While all involved with Bitcoin were aware that a solution was necessary, not everyone agreed on what the solution should be.

One camp, mainly consisting of Core developers, opposed larger blocks on fears of centralization. They posited off-chain solutions like Lightning Network and Segregated Witness (SegWit) as solutions that would still ensure Bitcoin’s security and decentralization. 

The other camp, with Ver firmly at the helm, argued fervently for on-chain scaling and a larger block size, which they believed was in line with Satoshi’s original intentions for the tech to eventually be used as electronic cash.

The intense debate culminated in a schism within the Bitcoin community. In August 2017, unable to reach a consensus, the blockchain underwent a hard fork — a split that resulted in the creation of Bitcoin Cash (which scaled to 8MB larger blocks) and with the Bitcoin chain eventually implementing SegWit.

In the book, Ver continues:

“We may never know the true motivation behind Bitcoin Core’s decision to overhaul Satoshi’s design. Maybe it happened in good faith. Maybe it happened because Core was infiltrated. Regardless, the result is the same: a small-block version of Bitcoin that is considerably less disruptive to the status quo. If interested parties did not directly corrupt Bitcoin, they certainly [benefited] from its corruption.”

Hijacking Bitcoin left me feeling puzzled over what reason there could possibly have been to create a new type of currency — particularly an electronic, non-government currency specifically created as in the wake of the 2008 crisis — that does not scale to actually compete with credit card companies.

But regardless of which side of the debate you fall on — whether you wish Bitcoin would have been developed as a true digital cash with large blocks, or whether you’re more than happy with a gold-like store of value coin and small blocks — I believe it’s vitally important to understand where the crypto industry comes from. You could read this book, walk away thinking that Bitcoin is in a much better place now than Satoshi could have ever envisioned, and still have learned something useful.

Ver and Patterson remind us that cryptocurrency was not actually invented to support MEV, staking, tokenization — and I don’t buy the argument that you don’t need to have at least a basic knowledge of the very first coin that spawned this entire industry in order to appreciate what crypto is.

Read more from our opinion section: How a smart contract gets away with murder: A review of ‘The Oracle’

Because if you work in crypto, believe in crypto, are passionate about Web3, DeFi and the like, not understanding how the crypto space came to be the mass of coins (and greed) that it is today is doing yourself a grave disservice.

As just one example, Hijacking Bitcoin’s chapter on the intense censorship of all forms of debate on the block size issue in the Bitcoin community’s key online forums is the antithesis of what so much of Web3 stands for today.

If you want to be crypto native, you want to grow Web3, you want to build a new financial system, you should understand where crypto came from and what parts of its history shouldn’t be repeated. 

The book ends with this thought from Ver about Bitcoin, but I believe it could be applicable to the wider crypto ecosystem as a whole:

“Whether Bitcoin ends up being a peer-to-peer cash system or a control system within a dystopian nightmare depends on what decisions we make going forward.”

If you want to make the right decisions, reading this book might be a good start.

I don’t care much about tech, I don’t care a whole lot about finance, either. I care about writing stories and watching weird things unfold. And that’s why I’ve ended up in crypto.

But because I’m missing that passion for what crypto and blockchain are all about — finance, tech, privacy, yadda yadda — I’m going to write instead about what I am actually interested in. Everything about crypto that has very little to do with crypto.

That’s what this column will be about. All the tangential stories that come out of the blockchain and crypto space, what I think about them, and how I navigate it all as a skeptical former Russian literature major.

It’s precisely my perch as an outsider that lets me do what I do: Opine on all sides of any crypto issue, no strings attached, no skin in the game.

If you want to talk crypto with me, let’s go off topic.

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