Politicians in San Francisco Want to Extend Payroll Taxes to Include Robots


In Brief


As robots and other automated systems replace human workers, there’s going to be less tax dollars to go around. Now, there’s an argument being made that businesses should have to pick up the slack.

Tax on Robots

More and more jobs are being automated, with robot workers replacing swathes of the human workforce. Much has been said about how the labor of robots will affect individuals being let go, but now we’re seeing more discussion about the broader economic effect in terms of lost tax money.

Now, Jane Kim of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is attempting to do something about this problem. She’s established a committee dubbed the Jobs of the Future Fund, which will serve to explore how best to smooth the transition toward more automation.

“We’re exploring continuing the payroll tax and extending it to robots that perform jobs humans currently do,” said Kim in an interview with CNBC. The money could be used to train displaced workers to fill other roles, fund free community college programs, or to foster the creation of new jobs in industries where automation is less viable.

Automated Payments

Kim’s stance on the taxation of an automated workforce echoes comments made by Bill Gates earlier this year.

“Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation,” Gates argued in an interview with Quartz. “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.”

The Laws of Robotics [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Automation seems poised to have a huge economic impact. It remains to be seen whether the advantages it brings in terms of increased productivity and the potential for new jobs outweigh its drawbacks. At this point, a sensible tax code seems to be the most sensible way of ensuring that everyone gets to reap the benefits, rather than just the business owners.

Too Much Tax?

The other side of the argument warns that enforcing a tax as this technology is starting to flourish will discourage widespread adoption. “Why would we want to put disincentives on companies using the best technology available?” asked Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, in response to Kim’s stance.

Automation is already revolutionizing the way various industries operate. It’s clear that we should make full use of this technology, but it’s high time that we figure out a way to do so that takes into account all the possible pitfalls for our economy and our society.

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