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Should the U.S. Tax Robots?

Do you support a tax on robots?

by Countable | 3.13.19

What’s the story?

  • Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is again promoting the idea that robots who replace human workers should be taxed as if they were alive.
  • “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,” Gates told The Verge. “If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

What are people saying?

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) agrees with “distributing wealth created by automation.” The freshman rep told an audience at South by Southwest festival this weekend:
“We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”
  • AOC explained that “what [Gates is] really talking about is taxing corporations. But it’s easier to say: ‘tax a robot.'”
  • Researchers at Northwestern wrote in 2017 that the government should only tax robots until there’s full automation. “Routine workers do not work, so taxing robots distorts production decisions without reducing income inequality,” they said.
  • Johannes Moenius, director at the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis, agreed.
“Taxing robots will reduce income inequality during the transition to a more automated society, no doubt,” he said. “But for the income and wealth inequality issue, it is simply the wrong tool.”

What do you think?

Should the U.S. tax robots? If so, at which rate? Should the tax be imposed only until there’s full automation? Take action and tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / PhonlamaiPhoto)

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