Here’s a question that no one even thought to consider until now- should we be taxing robots?
*Before I go much further, I want to make it clear that although the topic of a robotic workforce is a hot topic, I won’t be arguing the morals of the idea but rather the logistics assuming the transition is inevitable.
Bill Gates stirred up quite a frenzy when he stated in an interview that robots who take human jobs should pay taxes. If robots begin taking human jobs, the government will begin to lose the tax generated revenue needed to fund their work. Taxes paid by robots, just like any other tax, will help fund public goods benefiting humans (such as healthcare or education). Robots would be remarkably helpful in this manner as they won’t have a problem paying these taxes as it doesn’t affect their income or wellbeing at all- since they don’t have any to begin with.
To put his argument in perspective, Bill Gates explains that if we employ robots to do factory level jobs, we can reallocate our labor force to focus on jobs such as elderly care and tutoring that require human empathy. But without the income tax revenue from these factory jobs, there wouldn’t be enough funding for government provision of these institutions. Therefore, the solution lies in the taxation of robots.
But there is an obvious problem with this logic. How can we tax inanimate objects?
Bill Gates is a big vague on the specifics of this concept. He mentions a few ideas such as charging the companies on the profits generated by the labor-saving efficiency or charging a tax on the production of robots.
Any suggestions so far by Bill Gates is vague and will only lead to larger economic problems in the long run. Charging companies for the innovation and production of technology (a robot tax), is a self-harming tactic that will slow production and ultimately hinder development as it increases cost of production and discourages technological advancements.
This isn’t to say that some type of government revenue offset isn’t worth exploring in the future of automation, just that we are a long way from getting it right.