Bitcoin Is Worse Is Better

2011 essay on how Bitcoin’s long gestation and early opposition indicates it is an example of the ‘Worse is Better’ paradigm in which an ugly complex design with few attractive theoretical properties compared to purer competitors nevertheless successfully takes over a niche, survives, and becomes gradually refined.


The genius of Bitcoin, in inventing a digital currency successful in the real world, is not in creating any new abstruse mathematics or cryptographic breakthrough, but in putting together decades-old pieces in a semi-novel but extremely unpopular way. Everything Bitcoin needed was available for many years, including the key ideas.

However, the sacrifice Bitcoin makes to achieve decentralization is—however practical—a profoundly ugly one. Early reactions to Bitcoin by even friendly cryptographers & digital currency enthusiasts were almost uniformly extremely negative, and emphasized the (perceived) inefficiency & (relative to most cryptography) weak security guarantees. Critics let ‘perfect be the enemy of better’ and did not perceive Bitcoin’s potential. However, in an example of ‘Worse is Better’, the ugly inefficient prototype of Bitcoin successfully created a secure decentralized digital currency, which can wait indefinitely for success, and this was enough to eventually lead to adoption, improvement, and growth into a secure global digital currency.