Delegated proof-of-take (DPoS) is a distinct consensus protocol from proof-of-work (PoW) (PoW). The difference between the two is in the type of freedom they promote; DPoS promotes freedom under a benign master, whereas PoW promotes freedom from domination.
What Exactly Is Freedom?
Thanks to Isaiah Berlin, freedom can be understood in both negative and positive terms. According to Berlin, negative freedom is the absence of interference or constraints. Positive freedom, on the other hand, is the ability to do something to realize one’s potential. Liberal freedom is another name for negative freedom. According to the classical political philosophers Berlin admired (Hobbes, for example), one can enjoy freedom only when it is uninfringed upon. It makes no difference if there is a master who can intervene arbitrarily. Liberals argue that freedom means choosing and going through a door without interference if there are multiple doors to choose from and gatekeepers at each door. Remember this analogy.
I’ve previously argued that bitcoin freedom includes both negative and positive freedom. Quentin Skinner refers to this new concept of freedom as neo-Roman, and Phillip Pettit defines republican freedom as non-domination. They both argue for the same concept of freedom, with only a minor difference. Freedom as non-domination is both negative and positive in that it promises freedom from domination (arbitrary interference) and promotes practices to realize its potential. The ability to control power, however, is the most distinguishing feature of freedom as non-domination. Following the door analogy, gatekeepers can exist, but citizens must control their behavior in order to exercise their freedom of choice and passage through a door. Simply because there is no interference does not mean we are free, because an arbitrary decision made by a gatekeeper could revoke our freedom. It is critical in freedom as non-domination to be vigilant in checking and controlling the power of gatekeepers.
Why Is PoW Necessary For Freedom As Non-Domination
Freedom and decentralization are inextricably linked because freedom is only possible with decentralized power. To ensure liberty, power must be divided. In 1748, Montesquieu used a similar argument to establish one of the most important pillars of democratic government: separation of powers. For citizens to be free, government branches must be separated so that they can check and balance each other. In this regard, Bitcoin promotes freedom as non-domination via its PoW consensus mechanism, because a large number of independent nodes to validate transactions and create new blocks is critical in dispersing blockchain power. If this power is concentrated in a few nodes, the chances of arbitrary action on a blockchain increase, putting the freedom it promotes at risk.
DPoS: Liberty Under a Good Master
Delegated proof-of-stake is a consensus protocol that gives a few nodes the ability to validate transactions and create new blocks. A few nodes in a DPoS protocol take turns producing blocks and validating transactions. In other words, a few node operators control the freedom of DPoS users. Although one could argue that those nodes alternate between doing work and are not centralized, thousands of Bitcoin nodes distributed globally are unquestionably more decentralized and secure. As previously stated, the greater the decentralization, the greater the security for freedom can be promoted.
Can we be free in the presence of a benign master? No! Freedom is not freedom unless there is some guarantee that it will be maintained tomorrow. Today, the master(s) of the blockchain that uses the DPoS consensus mechanism can be good and benign. They have the ability to “give” users freedom. However, the checks and balances on the masters’ power are much weaker than in Bitcoin. The freedom that has been granted can be revoked. As a result, even the possibility of interference leads to dominance. Bitcoin liberty, on the other hand, is freedom from tyranny. There are no “benevolent” gatekeepers who can change their minds on a whim in the future. In a nutshell, the difference is between a benign master who grants freedom and an empowered citizenry of nodes who accept it.