Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), suggested in an interview that robots taking up human jobs should be taxed heavily. Gates wants to spend the collected money on human development and urgent needs like caring for the elderly and the children. We can also retrain the displaced worker with this money, Gates says. Of course, the robots are unlikely to resist or complain the proposed tax.
Speaking to Quartz, he said, “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”.
Gates also points out that government should do more to combat inequality. For the last 35-40 years, the popular view is that we will achieve equality through economic growth, and the private sector is best suited for this. But Gates says this is clearly not happening. The rich is only becoming richer, while the poor remains poor. He further says, a lot of excess labor, freed up by the robots, need to be employed, and the government should find a way of doing this. Taxing the robots is a way of generating the money.
Backlash Against the Proposal
However, the proposal to tax robots has provoked a backlash against Bill Gates. Critics say he wants to hold back progress.
Lawrence Summers, a Harvard economist and also a former U.S. treasury secretary, says this will be counterproductive. Summers says this is “protectionism against progress”. Mike Shedlock, a financial adviser with Sitka Pacific Capital Management, said that robot owners will just hike up the prices, so this won’t work.
Michael Lind from the New America think tank points out the computer industry once employed a lot of punch-card operators. There was no way to preserve their jobs even if software and PCs were taxed.
The Job Situation to Get Worse
Gates is saying increased use of automation will worsen the job situation. Taxing the robots will slow this down somewhat. However, he disagrees that a robot tax will discourage innovation. Robots are automation is bound to happen. Nobody can stop this. We need to find a way to protect humans, he says.
Ironically, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) of Bill Gates has been a leader in artificial intelligence research.