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ASIC Monopoly Fallacy

parsevalbtc edited this page Oct 18, 2022 · 21 revisions

There is a theory that Bitcoin ASIC price is controlled by a cartel of miners, creating a disproportionate advantage to mining partners of the cartel.

There is no economic difference between a cartel and a single organization. Changing organizational size is a free market outcome observable as capital seeks optimal economies of scale. If partners receive ASICs at a price that produces a below market return on capital, it amounts to an internal subsidy between partners. The same is true of a price that produces an above market return on capital, with the subsidy in the opposite direction. As such there is no net advantage to such discounting between partners.

Production is generally set at a level intended to produce a maximum rate of return on capital. The only economically rational way for a producer to raise price is to limit production below that optimum. Otherwise higher price implies unsold inventory, resulting in lower net returns. This implies that production must be restricted by the cartel in order to raise unit price for non-partners.

Limiting production leaves an opportunity for other producers to capture customers with a lower marginal utility for the product, as those customers would otherwise be unserved. Thus competition lowers price until the market clears. A free market seeks the clearing price that produces the global return on capital (interest). A current price above this level increases production and below decreases production. It is time preference that determines the rate of interest.

Unless production is disproportionately subject to anti-market forces, such as tax or subsidy, everyone enjoys the same opportunity to raise capital and compete in production.

If this does not happen it implies that returns on this line of business are consistent with average market returns. Tax and subsidy cause regional distortions but do not eliminate competition. In other words, monopoly price is only produced by state grant of monopoly power.

A related theory asserts that purchasing ASICs from this cartel increases its hash power. This is invalid on the basis of the above explanation of monopolistic pricing. The producer's capital will seek the same return in any line of business or investment. There is no reason to believe that the return will be disproportionate in ASICs.

A related theory asserts that the Bitcoin proof of work algorithm produces a pooling pressure, as a consequence of the supposed cartelization. If people truly believe that ASICs are overpriced the rational response is to raise capital and produce ASICs. But in any case market and anti-market (state) forces alone control chip production and as such it does not constitute a protocol-based pooling pressure.

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