They say money changes people. I’ve never had enough money to see much change, but it does become obvious in others; especially those with great riches. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is among those who put his ill-gotten gains to work helping humanity. Now he has another good idea. A robot tax.
Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.
One of the many reasons manufacturers bring in robots is their ability to work mostly 24/7, to produce more efficiently, and to avoid having to pay benefits, including taxes. Gates’ idea is not revolutionary, but it might help slow down the robot revolution.
What the world wants is to take this opportunity to make all the goods and services we have today, and free up labor, let us do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class sizes, helping kids with special needs. You know, all of those are things where human empathy and understanding are still very, very unique. And we still deal with an immense shortage of people to help out there.
That’s a very human thing to say.
Does that mean Apple is obligated to raise prices to help pay taxes generated by robots who take away technology or manufacturing jobs?
What executive or shareholder would vote for such an idea?
There are many ways to take that extra productivity and generate more taxes. Exactly how you’d do it, measure it, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now. Some of it can come on the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency there. Some of it can come directly in some type of robot tax. I don’t think the robot companies are going to be outraged that there might be a tax. It’s OK.
Where would the income tax be imposed? On the seller? Or, on the buyer? And wouldn’t such a tax raise prices? Only government can impose such taxes.
If you want to do [something about] inequity, a lot of the excess labor is going to need to go help the people who have lower incomes. And so it means that you can amp up social services for old people and handicapped people and you can take the education sector and put more labor in there. Yes, some of it will go to, “Hey, we’ll be richer and people will buy more things.” But the inequity-solving part, absolutely government’s got a big role to play there. The nice thing about taxation though, is that it really separates the issue: “OK, so that gives you the resources, now how do you want to deploy it?”
Bill Gates has become a socialist.
The whole notion of a robot tax is interesting because it is people centric on the surface, but governments have a tendency to tax and then spend, but not always in appropriate ways. What is to guarantee that a robot tax would be used to benefit humans without jobs? How will the government be involved in retraining workers who are displaced by robots?
I like the idea but I see a revolution brewing because business cannot be trusted to do what is right regarding the robot revolution, and few governments in the world can be trusted to do the right thing for their citizens, so all that’s left is a revolution.