Vitalik Buterin and Nouriel Roubini Discuss Blockchain Trilemma, Moderated Debate To Come?


The Ethereum co-founder and the economics professor disagree about crypto.

On Wednesday, October 10, economist Nouriel Roubini, who teaches at New York University’s Stern School of Business, angrily tweeted to Vitalik Buterin criticizing him for the delay in Ethereum’s proof-of-stake (PoS) development, as well as about what Roubini sees as the impossibility of any blockchain project being scalable, secure, and decentralized at the same time.

Baited, Buterin defended himself but kept civil:

Again, Roubini attacked:

Buterin, of course, maintained his argument but remained equanimous.

What followed was a wash of generally inflammatory remarks about cryptocurrency by Roubini. He asserted that the space features “one shitcoin traded for another shitcoin” and “a cesspool of lunatics with severe Freudian scatological obsessions.”

Since then, Roubini has disseminated his anti-cryptocurrency sentiment throughout his Twitter feed. Along the way, prominent voices in the cryptospace have involved themselves in the discourse, including lead Ethereum Name Service developer Nick Johnson, Cornell researcher Phil Daian, and Unchained host Laura Shin, among others.

According to the discussion, Roubini had misinterpreted, or misrepresented, Buterin’s proposed trilemma. Buterin has discussed the difficulty of creating a blockchain that is scalable, secure, and decentralized all at the same time; often, one characteristic is sacrificed in service of the other two. Roubini argues that it is not just difficult but impossible.

Daian sympathized with (though did not necessarily agree with) Roubini, as the researcher maintains that an interlocutor must engage the opponent’s framework (in this case, that of economics) to win an argument. Johnson clapped back and said the point of the argument was not “flipping” Roubini to Buterin’s side but rather recognizing the falsehoods about blockchain technology that Roubini had apparently spread. Johnson added:

Roubini eventually joined the discussion and noted that he would “be happy to debate [Buterin] any time in public” about his belief in the impossibility of the scalability-security-decentralization “trinity.” He reminded his followers that he had “already debated Joe Lubin” of ConsenSys and received more applause from the crowd than Lubin had elicited himself.

At this point, Shin extended an offer to both Roubini and Buterin to host the proposed public debate on her podcast, Unchained. To the request, Buterin replied, “Yeah sure why not.”

Roubini, however, was less eager, to say the least:

Buterin also suggested Kevin Pham as a moderator for the debate, as he is equally opposed to both parties’ views and could arguably provide an equitable debate experience. Pham agreed:

However, Roubini called Pham a “brainless dwarf” and “thuggish,” implying he would not like to participate in a debate moderated by Pham. In response, Shin (sarcastically) said she wondered if anyone would be qualified to moderate the debate. Buterin tweeted that such a choice in moderator would ultimately be “fair”:

In a community-oriented space where discussions are public and transparent, this sort of exchange is unsurprising (vitriol, name-calling, and all). It’s probably more notable that Ethereum folks have remained relatively measured in their defenses. Perhaps they are simply used to it by now. After all, individuals like Roubini (and his set of anti-crypto beliefs) are not new by any means.

An important takeaway from this discussion, however, is the amount of support Buterin has received – not necessarily for his views, as many community members have argued and opined about the blockchain trilemma, but for him as a person receiving flak from a hater. One thing the Ethereum community does well is, well, community.

Coincidentally, days prior to the Twitterstorm, Buterin tweeted an example of what he sees as productive intellectual debate:

Daniel Putney is a full-time writer for ETHNews. He received his bachelor’s degree in English writing from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he also studied journalism and queer theory. In his free time, he writes poetry, plays the piano, and fangirls over fictional characters. He lives with his partner, three dogs, and two cats in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

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