After an article about the role of science for good and evil (Bronowski on Science and Human Values) I now explore how robots will take over most jobs and ask myself why this takeover needs to be subsidized by our taxes.
The old debate about automation and employment (ref. Luddites in 19th Century England) is taking new proportions as most jobs, including white-collar jobs are now at risk. In the US close to 50% of the workforce is in danger of being replaced by computers and robots. In the UK 35% of jobs could be gone within two decades.
Humans, Robots and the Tax Code
Robots can work 24/7 and during holidays (excluding maintenance and repairs – the equivalent of our holidays and sick leave). But a more perverse advantage is granted by the tax code through generous breaks link accelerated and even bonus depreciation as well as various credits that help reduce the upfront cost of robots. Labor in contrast is hit by punitive taxes through social security, unemployment, medical, pension, insurance and other forms of taxation that discourage employers from hiring people and paying decent wages.
With a global workforce of 3 billion and 200 million unemployed (2012), the robot revolution will exacerbate inequalities between owners of capital and those who rely on wages for their livelihood and dignity.
A controversial revolution
Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have joined 1,000 eminent scientists in a petition warning about the dangers of developing robots and artificial intelligence that can learn emotions and develop a conscience. They fear this could be our last invention as robots, having developed a Darwinian instinct would then turn against us.
Subsidising the transition to unemployment and misery
The robot revolution may be inevitable but I wonder why this transition to mass unemployment and human misery must be accelerated by government policy and funded by us, individual and human taxpayers (mostly through employment and personal income tax ). In 2010, 82% of US Federal Tax revenue came from individuals and payroll taxes, only 9% from corporations…