The Lightning Network Doesn’t Fix Everything Wrong With Bitcoin

And that’s okay.

AccessTimeIconJun 5, 2023 at 4:21 p.m. UTC

The Bitcoin layer 2 protocol, the Lightning Network, is aptly named because, when it works, it works lightning fast. People love the Lightning Network.

And it makes sense that they do. Although it has some potential issues and shortcomings, it has much promise and could very well help solve Bitcoin’s scaling problems. But because it is promising, the Lightning Network has been pitched as the solution for everything.

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Transaction fees too high? Lightning Network.

Blocks too small? Lightning Network.

Blocks too slow? Lightning Network.

Governments censoring transactions? Lightning Network.

Soup too hot? Lightning Network.

Soup too cold? Lightning Network.

You get the point.

With bitcoin fees skyrocketing amid the recent Ordinals and BRC-20 craze, which so luckily lined up perfectly with the annual bitcoin pilgrimage to Bitcoin Magazine’s Bitcoin 2023 conference in Miami, the same answer found its way into conversations about some of Bitcoin’s problems on- and off-stage and on social media again and again.

The Lightning Network.

But not everyone thinks Lightning is a panacea for every Bitcoin problem. Some question whether it will be able to solve the problem it was intended to solve.

Which is to say, but say it softly: Maybe the Lightning Network isn’t the way Bitcoin can enable fast, cheap, casual, peer-to-peer transactions.

There’s also a group of people who do and don’t want layers built on Bitcoin at all and think the base layer should ossify or stop changing.

Putting that aside for now, there’s a growing pragmatic view that the Lightning Network is or probably will be good for certain types of payments, but not all types of payments. That doesn’t mean either side is completely correct, but at least the hivemind doesn’t appear to be in control anymore.

Lightning Network might not solve everything and that’s okay. We should still try.

The Lightning Network very much was and still is an experimental technology. Proponents warn to this day to exercise caution when committing hard-earned bitcoin to the Lightning Network since you can easily lose funds if you aren’t experienced. And even then, a lot of the more popular Lightning-enabled wallets, like Wallet of Satoshi, work really well mostly because they are custodial.

The Lightning Network spurred many promising Bitcoin startups: THNDR Games, Voltage, CashApp, Strike, River, Amboss, Zebedee, IBEX, to name a few. Many Lightning proponents have even positioned the layer 2 protocol as a way to make bitcoin accessible to billions.

They may be right. In the future, when many people are using bitcoin, it will be theoretically cheaper to use the Lightning Network for everyday transactions which necessarily makes it more accessible, especially as wealth distribution varies so much across countries.

But the idea that Bitcoin can scale to billions isn’t taken for granted these days, and some see it as an outrageous proposition. More people using bitcoin could be a problem. Nobody knows if the Lightning Network will continue to be cheap if transaction fees start to rise.

There are no panaceas. Not the Lightning Network, not Stratum V2, not your favorite Bitcoin thing.

The end of investing every hope and dream in one Bitcoin spinoff is a good thing. Investing in false gods never works.

Bitcoin is decentralized and, so, it requires decentralized diversity of thought. It’s okay to champion the Lightning Network or Liquid or Ark or whatever your other thing might be. But there’s always a new project to come on Bitcoin, because it’s open-source, and that’s a good thing.

Edited by Ben Schiller.

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George Kaloudis

George Kaloudis was a research analyst and columnist for CoinDesk.