Tax the robots that replace workers

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Tax the robots that replace workers
Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Wouldn't taxes already be deducted from their paycheques?


That has been suggested to discourage "robotization" or at least to make corporations pay for replacing humans with robots.

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

Oh, OK.  See, the article kind of tried to make it sound like the ROBOTS would pay, and I figured that would have to come out of their paycheque one way or another and... well never mind.

If we're going to do this -- which is to say if we decide that companies who use automation must pay extra taxes for doing this instead of hiring a person -- then I think we'll need to start by defining what a robot actually is, in this context. 

Is a conveyor belt a robot?  Is a self-serve checkout or an ATM a robot?  Is an industrial washing machine a robot?  Is a vending machine a robot?

Is a machine a robot in this context if it does a job a human COULD do?  If it does a job humans USED TO do?  If it does a job that a human would LIKE to do?


I think manufacturing, assembly, loading and carrying.  Including the transporting of goods within a facility and the delivery from a facility to an outside point of destination.  Which had previously, and recently, been performed by humans.

Mr. Magoo Mr. Magoo's picture

think manufacturing, assembly, loading and carrying.  Including the transporting of goods within a facility

That's kind of why I gave the example of a conveyor belt. 

And I get that they're not "automated" or "programmable", but I was surprised to hear that they're only about 120 years old, and presumably before their use, things were carried differently.

And FWIW, I'm not heckling here, or saying "we cannot reasonably tax the use of machines".  But pretty much every machine -- including common and familiar things like a circular saw or a dishwasher or a cement mixer -- does something that a human could do, and that a human DID do prior to their invention.  So I think that before we say that this is a good idea, we'd need to know what constitutes a robot in this specific context.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

The auto industry has been heavily roboticized for decades. But it’s also true that machines that we take for granted also fit the definition of robot in terms of automated work. It would be difficult to define what is and isn’t exempt from that kind of taxation. 

Pogo Pogo's picture

I think it should be as simple as ratio of capital investment vs employees.  My first job was in the Chemainus Sawmill #5 (the others mostly burned down) which at one time was one of the largest in the world.  700 workers only to be replaced by a new mill, #6, that almost matched its production with 120 workers.

I am totally up for discussing a capital tax that has reductions based on how employee numbers (wages?).


Isn't the key to raising living standards, raising productivity? And isn't the key to raising productivity, raising the rate of output by unit of input, which is dependent greatly on automation?

Pogo Pogo's picture

I agree.  I don't there is any benefit in becoming Ludites.  The question is about who benefits.  I am not taxing them to dissuade companies from producing efficiently, particularly if those efficiencies reduce carbon output. I am just saying that the concentration of revenue to capital over labour has to be accounted for.