Bitcoin developer and Bloq co-founder Jeff Garzik expresses his opposition on soft forks and its mechanism in which a few group of developers are granted the authority to decide major economic changes which are applied and implemented into the Bitcoin network.
To begin with, soft forks are forward compatible in the sense that old nodes will recognize new blocks as valid. A soft fork requires only a majority of the miners to upgrade to the network rules or face security reduction.
The centralization issue emerges during the process of submitting and implementing a soft fork into the network. When a Bitcoin Improvement Proposal is presented to the few Bitcoin Core developers led by BIP editor Luke Dashjr, the developers decide on a majority consensus whether to accept the soft fork and to implement it into the Bitcoin network.
Garzik heavily criticized the Segregated Witness proposal for the same reason in his Bitcoin Status Report presentation at the OnChain Scaling Conference on August 30, stating that SegWit is ruled by a tiny and a few technocratic elite.
“Soft forks very specifically, from an average user point of view , cannot be considered opt-in because the entire network is locked into the new consensus rule, regardless or not.”
He further emphasized that if soft forks tend to be controversial, it is extremely difficult to reverse and challenge. “Controversial soft forks are difficult to reverse or challenge. Each soft fork faces a security reduction if the node does not upgrade,” he added.
Garzik believes that grating a few people in a network utilized by millions of users to create major economic changes sets a negative precedent for Bitcoin and its reliance on decentralization.
“The entire network has to follow decisions made by a tiny few and if you start to create a practice or precedent for rolling out economic changes where the only approval for those changes are these tiny, few people, essentially, you’re re-creating something that Bitcoin is antithetical to: the Federal Reserve or the FOMC.”
Bitcoin Core developer Peter Todd and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin recently had a debate on a similar issue when Todd proposed the idea of presenting Zcash, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency, as a soft fork instead of developing an independent currency to compete with Bitcoin.
In response to Todd’s soft fork proposal, Buterin argued back stating that it is more important to actually create things than to propose and to have it approved by a select few.
While soft forks, in theory, require a consensus from the majority of Bitcoin Core developers, it essentially grants a very few selected members of the network and community to make big changes in the network.