Proposing an explicit social contract in support of POW mining

October 6, 2019 by Bob Summerwill


In the years since the DAO fork and the unexpected birth of Ethereum Classic, strong social consensus has emerged in support of ETC remaining POW mined into the indefinite future.

In order for Ethereum Classic to remain self-sovereign, merge-mining ETC would not be acceptable either.

There is very little appetite for proposals of POS at the ETC base protocol layer, though POS sidechains or L2 solutions on top of POW are generally well received within the ETC ecosystem.

This consensus was evident at the recent ETC Summit 2019 conference in Vancouver, Canada, and this proposal seems to make that consensus explicit.


There is a broad perception that ETC has an implicit social contract in favor of POW mining. This ECIP seeks to transform that implicit assumption into an explicitly written social contract, as an ECBP which is adopted using the ECIP process.

This adoption could occur as part of the next hard-fork (just to “batch” discussions), or it could happen independently of that timeline. This proposal is a formalization of an aspect of the ETC social layer, not a technical protocol consensus concern. Because of that, it does not need to be synchronized with a hard fork.

How would this be adopted?

This proposal would be adopted by means of the ECIP editors moving it to Final state, if they are convinced of broad ecosystem consensus in its favor.

The Editors should use all signalling mechanisms at their disposal to assure themselves of broad support. That could include polls on social media platforms, miner votes, coinvotes, public debates at meetups and events, testing the water with “opinion pieces”, repeated discussion during the ECIP community calls, and anything else which seems prudent to them.

They should not rush this decision.

Potential downsides of adopting this proposal?

Unlike a protocol-level consensus change, dissent against this proposal being adopted would not result in a chain-split - just in dissenting voices grumbling about its adoption. That is not problematic. The ETC ecosystem generally welcomes dissent, and the people who would oppose this proposal’s acceptance already likely oppose sticking with POW mining. They will be dissenters irrespective of the result of this process.

If they choose to exit the ecosystem as a result of this proposal being adopted then that is probably a good thing.

Intended benefit of adopting this proposal?

This proposal would give stakeholders in the Ethereum Classic mining ecosystem (miners, pools, ASIC manufacturers, GPU manufacturers, etc) certainty that any investments they make are not going to be negated by rash future decisions by the Ethereum Classic ecosystem to change course on the current implicit social contract.

Making the implicit explicit, as Kirk Dameron would often say, is a simple but immensely powerful means for coordination. Ambiguity is often as bad or worse than any decision, even if that decision is not the one you would have wanted. Like the ECIP for Monetary Policy, adoption of this proposal will attract entities with long-term aligned incentives to Ethereum Classic.

Bitcoin is likely the single project which has a strong enough implicit social contract around SHA256 that businesses can assume that it will not be changing course - barring a situation where the Bitcoing hashing algorithm had reached end of life, with collisions signalling that it was time to upgrade.

Ethereum Classic would have a uniquely strong social signal with such an explicit statement.

What if we “change our mind”?

If some future unforeseen event or change of participants in the ETC ecosystem leads to broad consensus that it is necessary for the good of the network to break this explicit social contract then that decision would have to go through the exact same ECIP process as this proposal. That will not be an easy process.

Even if it that new proposal did get approved, the chances are that such a reversal of an explicit social contract would be seen as so divisive that a chain split would likely result. This guarantee would still be respected on one of those chains (likely the majority chain).

Whatever the case, adoption of this ECIP would be an unmistakeable sign that the Ethereum Classic community is a very strong ally of the POW mining ecosystem, in a way which likely on Bitcoin can match at the moment.

Isn’t this proposal running counter to “The Manifesto”?

Some people may feel that adoption of a proposal which seeks to make explicit social layer matters goes against elements of the "openness" and “neutrality” points of Arvicco’s “A Crypto-Decentralist Manifesto”. This document is broadly seen as a “Founding document” for Ethereum Classic. There may indeed be such a perception about the manifesto, but in truth the document is inspiration, not gospel truth, and certainly not law.

The need for a written Consitution and Bill of Rights for Ethereum Classic.

There is no written “Consitution” or “Bill of Rights” for Ethereum Classic. No proposal for such documents has ever been submitted to the ECIP process. We have never explicitly defined our social and ethical baseline assumptions - only the hardness of the protocol itself.

We depend on implicit social conformance and watchdogs to reject proposals which breach those baselines (ie. ProgPOW), but social comformance to unwritten baseline assumptions is not a safe approach.

We pride ourselves on our conservatism and our focus on security, but we have nothing but subjective humans standing in defence of Ethereum Classic’s unique value. We depend on particular individuals and their “toxicity” to defend Ethereum Classic. This approach is not socially scalable. Those individuals may not be around in the future. Social trends may shift. Social attacks may grow.

This kind of loose arrangement is how British government works. They refer to the unwritten "Constitution" which it is expected that governments will conform to. Essentially just precedent and an expectation that people will “play fair”. This is an incredibly weak basis for governance. Do we want that for Ethereum Classic? That is what we currently have.

The author would advocate that Ethereum Classic needs to be a Republic, not a mob Democracy, and that we need a written Consitution and Bill of Rights to ensure our mutual future freedom.

We need such rules to avoid the “Permissionless Fallacy” which Donald McIntyre has explained. There are certain proposals which would undermine the very shared assumptions which make Ethereum Classic “Decentralized, Unstoppable, Immutable”.

The Monetary Policy ECIP was somewhat akin to proposals which could be adopted into a Constitution, because that policy also provided long-term certainty for all ecosystem partipants. The difference for the Monetary Policy is that it was also a protocol-level consensus change, not purely a social contract.

In actually broke immutability by changing the future emissions schedule, but that exception to our unwritten guiding principles was made with broad social consensus. It had the explicit goal of locking that economic policy in stone forever.

So is this proposal a Constitution?

Not really. It would just consist of a single sentence. Something like:

“Adoption of this proposal by the ECIP authors is an explicit social contact between the Ethereum Classic ecosystem and the POW mining ecosystem that ETC intends to stay with POW mining (not merged mining) into the indefinite future.”

Such a contract could easily be adopted into a future Constition for Ethereum Classic though.

If there is consensus that ETC needs a written Constitution then the author will partner with suitable co-authors and will propose one.

IP Protections for Ethereum Classic

This work is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license. The author, Bob Summerwill, attests to his sole authorship of this work, and that he is able to contribute this work to the ECIP process under the Apache 2.0 licence.

He further attests that he neither holds nor is aware of any patents, trademarks, copyright issues or other IP hinderances associated with this work.

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