Bitcoiners often talk about onboarding the masses. Whether as a payment platform or a store of value, it should be fairly obvious by now that if Bitcoin is to cater to even a billion or two billion people, it needs better scalability – but does this need to be at the base layer?
The entire argument in favor of big blocks was that any new users coming to Bitcoin in the next few years would find the experience of using Bitcoin sub-par because of its inability to cater to them. And while big-block forks have seen negligible traction relative to the original Bitcoin blockchain, there’s a point in their argument – but it may not be down to block size.
The layered utility can help Bitcoin scale for the world, and yes, we mean protocols like the Lightning Network. Despite the lack of traction thus far, Lightning has immense potential if the incentives are properly aligned.
Scaling the base layer would be optimal if there was a way for it to be done without affecting the ease of running a full node. Satoshi’s comments from nearly a decade ago, where they claim professionals running large scale servers will operate nodes, are at the heart of the block size debate.
One faction, that treats the whitepaper as a rigid guideline, wants to keep Bitcoin in line with Satoshi’s early thoughts. The other side believes that verification is more important than scaling the base layer, and has resorted to alternatives, such as Lightning, to scale the network.
Both sides have a logical argument. Satoshi, whoever he/she/they was/were, was only human, and thus fallible. Treating Satoshi’s BitcoinTalk threads as holy scriptures is far from the right idea.
It’s clear that Bitcoin is close to hitting capacity, and using it as a mere instrument for wealth storage is frankly underwhelming. Real utility creates value – not the other way around.
Right now it seems like there are only two obvious ways to increase Bitcoin’s throughput: a fully functioning Lightning Network with liquidity, where users can be directed to, increasing the theoretical limit on block sizes.
Given the reaction to the New York Agreement and the Bitcoin Cash hard fork, the noisy minority in Bitcoin is unlikely to give in and increase the block size. New entrants often think the way outspoken people with large followings do. As a result, the current mindset in Bitcoin is unlikely to shift.
The end result is that non-custodial layer 2 architecture will be the only idea allowed to survive and thrive. Lightning, or a competitor to Lightning, is Bitcoin’s best bet to scale for the world.
Coming to the initial question, will Bitcoin scale for the masses? We have no clue; nobody does. Only time will tell how things pan out, but Bitcoin has a plethora of narratives that can shape into something tangible that provides value for the world.