back to article Speaking in Tech: Taxing robot labour for benefit glorious taxpayer

speaking_in_tech Greg Knieriemen podcast enterprise Regular tech podcasters Greg and Ed are joined by Josh Atwell of NetApp to discuss the rapid pace of innovation and automation and the impact on employment and society. The crew also discuss sexual harassment in the tech industry and Oracle “clawbacks”. The details… (0: …


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  1. Runty Dog

    How do you tax an object? The only entity that actually pays a tax is a human. If you tax a robot, you are actually taxing a company that uses them. Companies pay no taxes, they just pass them along to the human consumer as an increase in the cost of goods and services. All this proves is that while Bill Gates may be very smart when it comes to making money from computing, et al, he is no economist.

    1. Adam 1

      Humans pay no taxes. They merely pass them on as a reduction of their consumption from businesses. Just as silly an argument.

      According to economics, businesses will charge as much as the market will bear and no more and seldom less. Humans will seek out the best deal for them (including a cost minimisation objective). Taxation is an input cost to businesses. So are employee salaries. So are executive salaries. Any business who wants to raise prices in response has to either have a monopoly/duopoly or hope that their competitors follow suit.

      It's a genuinely interesting problem. If more folk are going to be displaced (I hate that word because it doesn't capture the impact on the individuals) then unemployment costs and pensions will rise, tax take will drop and spending capacity of society as a whole will drop. That is a negative feedback loop, so we are royally stuffed if we don't find some way of dealing with it. I think there are several issues with Bill G's suggestion (when does a piece of equipment become a robot as well as handling the import tariffs you would need to stop offshoring of the robot labour to give two examples) but it is worth considering in the mix of ideas.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Interesting, good to think about, sad business and gov want more tax

        I do not see the negative feedback loop in most new models I read about but then neither did those who advocated for Capitalism in the past. The idea seemed unassailable, supply and demand, prices kept in check by competition and regulation, wages determined by the marketplace in which anyone could equally participate. Basic human rights, environment and sustainability concerns all easily addressed by regulations that all would have to abide by, and for a while it looked like it was working.

        They didn't see the massive negative feedback of Capitalism that would have successful enterprises reject the idea of fair competition and instead use their money to corrupt systems to ensure they made more money. The result today is massive destabilization of our political and economic systems with the vast majority of benefits and wealth increasingly accumulating into the hands of the few who have become more powerful than Emperor's on issues in which they have concerns.

        All new models require a dismantling of the results of the last model. That isn't new, it is what happened that enabled Democracy and Capitalism and that will have to occur again. Of course that does not result in a clean slate but remnants from which to build.

        Thanks to technology our current democratic systems can be expanded to share the power taken from the currently powerful, to let individuals influence decisions. Of course we've learned that the masses are easily manipulated into acting, even voting against their own interests and instead act in the interest of lobby groups, so much so that their world view is formed by lobby groups. There are many ways to address such issues, to put in place checks and balances to help prevent the corruption, the negative feedback loops, that destroyed Democracy and Capitalism acting again to destroy the new systems.

        But first the old systems need to be removed. Once that is done exactly what gets built from the remnants, the details, will, as it always depend on what is leftover.

        Sharing the wealth from increased, even total, automation, seems to be one of the easier, and later, issues we have to deal with.

  2. Alan Brown Silver badge

    How much are robots paid? Will it be PAYE?

    (Yes, if called Andrew and making carved objects, they might be paid, but that's an exception)

  3. MachDiamond Silver badge

    What is a robot?

    Is an electric sewing machine a robot? How about a CNC mill? A conveyor belt? Big factories often have unmanned trolleys for moving stuff around. Are they a "robot"? They displace a forklift driver. What about its big brother, the big movers that put pallets on skyscraper racks in a warehouse?

    I have a hard time believing that a herd of non-technical, blood sucking lawyers, aka politicians, can write legislation that delineates the difference between a machine and a robot in a way that makes sense, is non-ambiguous and won't be obsolete in a week.

  4. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Already taxed.

    In the US, fixed assets are already taxed based on their acquisition cost. If I buy a machine for $100K this year, it's taxed based on the purchase price for as long as I own it by the county. I can depreciate it on my Federal and State taxes over a period of time since They don't want me to deduct its cost all at once and deprive them of money They want today.

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