As automation becomes increasingly woven into the fiber of American manufacturing, many people are now spending at least a portion of their time considering the longer-term ramifications associated with such a seismic shift in the way work gets done.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one of those people.
In an interview with Quartz, Gates shared his thoughts on the possibility of a robot tax, of all things.
“Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation. 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.”
Later, Gates said:
“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.”
Robots are obviously not going to pay any tax, but Gates imagines their producers (overseers?) paying it. That’s all well and good, until you remember who really pays all taxes – Joe Citizen. When a tax on a business goes up, what happens to the price of the good or service, generally? It also goes up.
Additionally, it is unclear what effect a robot-laden workforce will ultimately have on its human counterparts. If history is any guide - and it certainly should be - technological advancements tend not to eliminate jobs, in the net sense, but, rather, change the kind of work that needs to be done. There has, obviously, been all kinds of technological progress in just the last 100 or so years, and yet oodles of positions, in every community in America, remain unfilled.
The fact is, advances in artificial intelligence and robotics will be the source of plenty of new and interesting jobs, rather than the reason the human workforce goes the way of the wind.
Which means that liberal, billionaire hypocrites like Gates have nothing to fear – there will still be plenty of working taxpayers available to have their pockets regularly picked by the government.
No worries, right?
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large