Robots that Replace Skilled Labor Should Pay Taxes

If there’s anything in the world that can unite everyone, whatever race, class, political belief, religion or gender alignment; that we can all agree on, except maybe people who work in internal revenue offices, is that paying taxes suck. We know that taxes make governments go round but maybe, we’d love to do it more if we see our taxes well spent, right? Rich or poor, even big corporations hate paying taxes. One question, should robots with jobs pay taxes? If you’re familiar with the current season of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, when life model decoys replace us, they will have to pay our taxes, right? That’s what billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates thinks. Robots that replace skilled labor should pay taxes. It’s not to begrudge or discriminate against robots but something more logical.

“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.”

— Bill Gates, interview with Quartz

The road to a fully automated future seems inevitable. With our current level of technology, we might get there in about ten years or so. Right now, every tech company is heavily investing and researching in AI and robotics. If Siri, Cortana or Alexa can prepare a manager’s coffee, we probably won’t have secretaries in the future. Uber is testing self-driving vehicles. Work is progressing in self-driving interstate cargo trucks. Robotic drones are now delivering pizzas, and there have been successful tests in delivering packages by drones. There are also hotels in Japan with robotic receptionists, bartenders and bellhops plus we’ve also written about a robotic motorcycle test driver. Those robots have and will replace people in the future that do menial jobs. Gone will be the truck drivers that frequent interstate truck stops and bars, or, in case drivers do stay, they might face robotic bartenders and waitresses in those bars and diners. At least for people who order pizzas, or eat in restaurants, they won’t have to bother leaving tips to their delivery boys, waiters or maître ds.

One big loser when it comes to automation aside from the people robots will replace will be the governments of countries where full automation will be implemented. If a factory or logistics company employs a thousand workers and the company decides to replace half of those workers or more with machines, as the ultimate goal is to cut costs in labor, the government stands to lose the income tax equivalent of all those replaced individuals; given that they don’t immediately get jobs, and the company robots aren’t required to pay the tax. Given that half or even a third of all manufacturing companies do the same thing, it’s a big loss for governments should a significant number of laid off workforce aren’t able to get jobs and pay their taxes.

The companies win big time as they won’t have to pay their share of income tax for their workers nor their salaries, insurance premiums and benefits, medical or otherwise. Robotics advocates say that replaced humans will be free to pursue other things, to better themselves, like in Star Trek. That humans won’t be replaced but elevated into other positions. Hopefully, that would be the case in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake where the boy’s father ended up becoming the technician of the robot that replaced him or the government implement a minimum-wage fixed income program.

As mentioned, skilled labor replacement can happen in as early as a decade. Companies that get with the program can earn big money in labor savings, but they shouldn’t be off the hook. Bill Gates says that their robots will have to pay taxes just like everyone else who works or worked at the company to cover the tax loss. Also, according to him, those taxes should be used to help support those people who stand to lose their jobs. That money will be used to help re-direct the skills of those people into some things robots cannot do yet.

“But you can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers… People should be figuring it out. It is really bad if people overall have more fear about what innovation is going to do than they have enthusiasm.”

 — Bill Gates

Many may hate him for how he did business, but there’s no denying his brilliance got him to where he is today. So corporations can employ robots all they want, but there’s still no escaping the taxman.