Bill Gates wants to tax ‘job-killing’ robots

“Last month in an interview with the website Quartz, the Microsoft founder and richest man alive said it would be OK to tax job-killing robots. If a $50,000 worker was replaced by a robot, the government would lose income-tax revenue,” Kessler writes. “Therefore, Mr. Gates suggested, the feds can make up their loss with ‘some type of robot tax.'”

“This is the dumbest idea since Messrs. Smoot and Hawley rampaged through the U.S. Capitol in 1930,” Kessler writes. “When I started working on Wall Street, I was taken into rooms with giant sheets of paper spread across huge tables. People milled about armed with rulers, pencils and X-Acto Knives, creating financial models and earnings estimates. Spreadsheets, get it? This all disappeared quickly when VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3 and eventually Microsoft Excel automated the calculations. Some fine motor-skill workers and maybe a few math majors lost jobs, but hundreds of thousands more were hired to model the world. Should we have taxed software because it killed jobs?”

Bill Gates
Bill Gates
“What’s most disturbing is that the Luddites never totally went away. How many times have we been subject to proposals that would tax progress? ObamaCare’s regulations froze the medical industry. Its 2.3% medical-device tax was even worse, discouraging investment in one of the few innovative health-care sectors. Mileage standards on automobiles were a waste of resources contributing to the moronic Detroit bailout in 2009. Even a carbon tax is Ludd-like, raising the cost of energy to slow its consumption,” Kessler writes. “Surely Mr. Gates knows that his charitable foundation’s efforts to eradicate malaria and other diseases require a lot of productive capital and hard work. I can’t picture him clamoring to tax robots that lower the cost of malaria drugs or mosquito nets. That kind of tax would kill off the next wave of disease-killing productivity.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Oh, no, Bill Gates is worried that “the government” might “lose income-tax revenue!”

The horror.

As a wise man once said:

Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. — Steve Jobs

59 Comments

    1. “Oh, no, Bill Gates is worried that “the government” might “lose income-tax revenue!””
      Dumb ass take because you didn’t read the article. Our country has already seen the rapid effects of cost cutting on employment and stagnant wages over the last 20 years. Did you really miss the dynamic in this past election? The societal impact has been dramatic in many ways (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opioid_crisis) and Gates is suggesting ways to work through the accelerating displacement of workers and attendant income loss.

    2. I’m not sure this idea of Bill Gates is a good one or not.
      But, I’m not impressed by a fundamentalist-free-market argument.
      Perhaps a better way to deal with a future of fewer jobs for humans would be a universal basic income: enough to live on, but most people will want to do more because a large majority of people _like_ being productive, or because they want more than enough-to-live-on.

  1. He’s a complete idiot. Just because he’s rich doesn’t mean he knows wtf he’s talking about. To what end would you do this? Unless they are conscious, then the answer should always be no. Otherwise you need to start taxing the printing press, vehicles, and every single invention. Your basically be taxing 99.99% of an iPhone’s value because over time nearly every process has been improved and improved and improved again, meaning it requires fewer human jobs to accomplish a goal. I already went off about this months ago, and this is an old story. He’s a has-been old man losing his mind and out of touch with technology.

  2. Boss comes out of his office onto the sales floor. It’s dead, Not a single customer. The boss says what is going on here, I planned this out to a T. The robot worker says, don’t know boss. Since we robots arrived and workers left, business has been dead. Maybe you need to have a sale.

  3. Not a fan of Bill But.
    The more we remove jobs with a replacement in site the more we move to a world of 4 groups of people.
    1. The supposed 1% own everything and control 99% of the world wealth.
    2. The Police \ Military \ Government, to protect the 1%, we all know they don’t really care about the poor.
    3. The maintenance workers & Medical community fixing the robots & 1%ers that can’t be fixed by other robots.
    4. The remaining population that are fighting and killing each other over the scraps.
    This is a few generations off but we are already moving in that direction.

    So somehow we need to pull income out of the 1% to support all those that won’t have anything or we have to be prepared to kill off most of the population.

    Before you call me a dumb ass, this probably won’t happen but it is a possible future of our planet.

      1. Sorry but your simplistic Harrisonian thinking ignores the reality that more wealth is hoarded by the top few thousand individuals today than any time in the previous century, when the Sherman Antitrust Act finally ended the robber baron era.

        You cannot get blood from a stone. If you want to maintain the infrastructure of the world, it will have to be paid for by people who actually have money. If you want everyone to pay to play, then the richest people will need to create jobs so everyone can actually pay. Gotit?

          1. The USA has been socialist since day one. You want to have no personal liabilities, I know, but that means you had better stop using military protections, police services, ambulance services, public roads. Also buy all your own water and create your own electricity since those are distributed via municipal systems. Don’t ever borrow a library book or ask for your fire to be extinguished by a professional community force. When the next forest fire set by some idiot occurs, go ahead and try to battle it yourself to save your farm. After all, why should I pay for those water tankers to save you?

            The examples go on forever. American can never be 100% capitalist, and it never has been.

            I am very aware that personal freedoms are precious, but I’m not going to side with your insistence on corporatocracy taking over. The world needs to have citizen’s rights represented, which means a federal government. Every nation can improve its federal government by voting out the idiots representatives who want to completely de-regulate all business and instead elect representatives who will reform the tax code to incentivize small business creation, competition, and a mandatory balanced budget at all government levels. Only then will you see government by the people, for the people. Trump and his cronies believe in government for the billionaires only.

            1. Warning: analysis ahead.

              Trump is not a typical Republican or typical conservative. He is closer to being a force of nature—the manifestation of a country’s id, crying out for some kind of justice. In only two months, he has ripped off the scabs from wounds that hadn’t healed in generations, and the screaming is beginning to wake up a whole bunch of people who had fallen asleep watching the Social Policy reality show that’s run since 1980.

              Despite his missteps, Trump personifies the face of the downtrodden and therefore owns a powerful base of voters and activists that can force local change. His rhetoric has also inspired spirited opposition. In this way, he has revitalised democracy, by defying the conventions of a corrupt two-party system which only perpetuate policies determined by influence-peddling on both sides.

              He doesn’t like to change his mind; but in the face of defeat, he will do it, and move on, redefining the central problem as he does so.

              He is totally not an ideologue, more of a benign Machiavellian opportunist. I see him as a narcissist, not bad in itself, and as an emotionally needy person who just wants to be loved.

            2. No, I try to keep an open mind, susceptible to rational persuasion. When accused of drinking the Kool-Aid, which is in no way a form of rational persuasion, I can only wonder what you are drinking.

            3. The things you list are legitimate functions of government. The problem is that the vast bulk of spending is on entitlements: Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

              I do not consider Social Security to be a function of US government. It is a socialist stupidity instituted by a duplicitous FDR. Worst president ever. Even worse than Obama and Carter.

              As for health care. List the prices upfront, like virtually every other business, and let health insurance companies compete freely, across state lines, and the costs would come down. Right now, they charge based on what they can get away with based on your insurance company “negotiating” with them. I don’t fucking need a health negotiator, thanks.

              I also don’t need the fucking government taking MY money and generating the shittiest possible return ever via Social Security. If i could only keep MY money, I could generate at least 20 times what social security makes with my eyes closed. The amount of capital wasted via Social security can never be calculated, FDR is burning in fucking hell for what he inflicted upon America.

            4. Fair enough, but when the genie is out of the bottle we have a new problem.

              It seems to me that the basic problem is this: American voters have adjusted their expectations over the years since 1930, and are now happy beneficiaries of entitlement programs, seeing them as “rights.” They must be accommodated by their representatives who fear being voted out of office for “taking away our rights.” It’s a tightrope that must be walked by every politician with principles, but it has to be understood that representatives, being self-interested human beings and not just drones of a national movement, value their political survival far more than the finer points of ideology, and more than the interests of their campaign contributors. In short, by feeling pressure to protect their regional constituents against loss, they undermine their own political purity. It will be incredibly difficult to return to the ideal world of 1925 without breaking this voter-lock that confounds rational market principles by injecting newly arrived ethical values.

            5. There is no greater entitlement than any form of corporate welfare. Imagine that, a tax break from society for the privilege of hiring people for you to make money. At most, it should be at the startup stage.

              Then it sounds like you want your own personal line item veto. Good luck with that. Society is about functioning as a unit, with liberties as an individual.

              Want to invest you Social Security for yourself? Well we shouldn’t have to support your gambling habits, and since we will still feed you, should you fail, this is what everyone gets. It’s a minimum, not an investment.

              Then…if I were to agree with you, what will Wall Street (or the racetrack) do with all this funny money flying around?

      2. Tax the rich, feed the poor, till there are no rich no more. I’d love to change the world – but I don’t know what to do, Ten Years After, I’d Love To Change the World.

      3. There is unrest in the forest
        There is trouble with the trees
        For the maples want more sunlight
        And the oaks ignore their pleas

        The trouble with the maples
        And they’re quite convinced they’re right
        They say the oaks are just too lofty
        And they grab up all the light
        But the oaks can’t help their feelings
        If they like the way they’re made
        And they wonder why the maples
        Can’t be happy in their shade?

        There is trouble in the forest
        And the creatures all have fled
        As the maples scream ‘oppression!’
        And the oaks, just shake their heads

        So the maples formed a union
        And demanded equal rights
        ‘The oaks are just too greedy
        We will make them give us light’
        Now there’s no more oak oppression
        For they passed a noble law
        And the trees are all kept equal
        By hatchet,
        Axe,
        And saw

        -Rush
        Songwriters: Geddy Lee / Alex Lifeson / Neil Peart

  4. Why is it that rich people with very very rare exceptions are not willing to pay taxes and find every which way they can think of to avoid them.

    And usually at the very same time, again with rare exceptions, these same rich people’s charitable giving is non existent…

    hypocrisy much….

    1. Rich people have an overpowering sense of entitlement, and resent any effort to invalidate their precious hegemony. They consider it obvious that the underprivileged suffer from a deficiency of ambition, self-discipline and moral rectitude. Thus they resent their taxes benefitting these deadbeats in any way. They are however generous with donations to needy groups—but only the ones identified as deserving by their church, by political groups advancing their interests, or by their accountants as tax-deductible. It is so very cozy.

  5. i say let us forego all this strife. let us surrender to those with superior educations that know better how to mange our lives and our families. let us submit to those who can better engineer the architecture of our hopes and dreams. let us tax everything that moves. may our futurisms be welfarisms. may i no longer have to think in earnest. may i no longer have to be burdened with the maintenance of this pioneering, individual spirit. may i no longer have to be burdened with the management of my very own personal bank account, of my very own money. may i learn to love making a continuous humming sound.

            1. As a Pythagorean, I regard Mathematics as Truth that cannot be denied, even as it cannot be comprehended. Yes, it’s a religion, one in which the Divine expresses itself in a form available to all, not just to a corruptable priesthood. Science is more modest, and does not obsess over truth, but focuses on maximum likelihood, something that can change over time.

            2. But a Pythagorian would swear by the mirror symmetry of the weak nuclear force, yet the world behaves differently in the mirror… You could tell which world you’re in.

              I refuse to believe that God is a weak left hander – W. Pauli
              Yet that’s exactly what He chooses to be…

              But then there’s the flip side: Eugene Wigner’s -“The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”

              But either way, religion is not science. Science rests belief on physical proof and physical proof only. Admittedly this may doom it to perpetual ignorance. Cannot prove the multiverse, for instance, or God. Choose your faith.

            3. A Pythagorean (e not i) appreciates symmetry as a fundamental organising principle of the universe. As does a physicist. Both get really excited by new discoveries that seem to violate symmetry, such as that Parity is not conserved; not because symmetry is diminished in importance, but because it points to a higher symmetry, the hunt for which energises us all. Broken symmetry is an essential tool of thought, a way of understanding how perfect forms can ever evolve into anything interesting.

              As for your precept that science rests on physical proof, that is debatable. Astrophysics, quantum field theory, string theory, are all inferential and rely on mathematical conjectures. Some of these eventually come around and yield physical proof, but it may take generations. As for the multiverse—Lisa Randall has some ideas to test whether this is a fact or just moonshine.

              Religion and science are not natural enemies at all. They are different expressions of the same human longing to know our place in the cosmos. If they clash at times, it is because of the limits of our imagination, and because of our overpowering pride—our desire to be on the winning side, right or wrong!

            4. I’m glad we wholeheartedly agree, save one point. Anything not measurable is not science. Even we can’t do an experiment on the Cosmos we can measure.

              How we will ever know anything outside our light cone escapes me, it would require new discoveries, the first being superluminal information transfer.

              A hypothesis is not “science” until it’s proven correct.

              And yes, we seem to be losing determinism, but that is due to the nature of the universe, not some equation. The equation describes the physics. Likely something fundamental like the quantization of space and time leading to the uncertainty principle, or something like that. Anyway, that’s the problem with quantum mechanics. It only gives discrete answers. Inputs and outputs with no underlying mechanism at all.

              Agree totally on religion versus science. They both seek truth.

              Always a pleasure.

            5. this conversation makes me laugh. i love it. excites my little mind. regrettably for me, i don’t know anybody who talks like you two. max tegmark postulated that consciousness is mathematical. i do like him. maybe divine love is, too. i like this. much π to u

            6. Measure is too weak a word to define the essence of science; theorising in advance of data, is advance scouting of the terrain before the calibrators move in.. hypothesis is an essential element of the scientific method. And again, confirmation through repeated trials does not represent proof, only maximum likelihood. Scientists use the word “proof” as shorthand for “our very best guess” when they communicate with laymen, who don’t understand confidence intervals. In that, they differ from the histrionics of 100% true believers from various cults like Islam, Christianity, and Free-market Capitalism.

              Not trying to quibble, just liking to zero in, like a drone programmed to blast enemies of enlightened thought.

            7. Nah, measure IS the word. That we iterate towards better and better approximations in science is true.

              “The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” – Thomas Huxley

              But there’s a very good reason why we speak statistically. In the absolute mathematical sense, all geometry is non-Euclidean, because something is always around to warp spacetime, even infinitesimally. But even deeper, Schrodinger’s IS a first principle, as much as the Laws of Thermodynamics. Statistics is built in as a fundamental characteristic pf the Cosmos.

              If only the universe were mathematically correct, rigid, and deterministic. Turning to philosophy…that would undermine free will.

            8. You meant Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, didn’t you? Indeterminacy does seem irradicable, irreducible, and indelible, not just in physics but in mathematics, as Gödel proved. Even so, Mathematics is the wonderful hidden side of Nature, whose book of magic tricks far outstrips the holy books of historical religions with their debunkable myths and suspiciously human-like gods. Not saying they’re all false, mind you, just badly written, more like.

            9. We can go with Werner or we can go with Erwin. Paul Adrien Maurice (such a shy boy) proved they were equivalent. Their theories are part of the fabric of nature, as far as we can tell.

              All I’m getting at is mathematics exists for it’s own purposes. Set up some ground rules and relationships between them, and bam! Mathematics! No small feat, and often turns up in the natural world anyway. But in science, unlike mathematics, nature (experiment and measurement) is the arbiter. THe real universe is sloppy…

            10. I kind of like your thinking. All I am really saying is that whilst science is our vital link to all that exists and lives and breathes, mathematics is our touchstone to the divine.

  6. Reminds me of a true story about an executive who objected to the introduction of personal computers for getting contract work done faster because contracts paid by the hour. The executive evidently didn’t consider the possibility that other companies might compete for those contracts on price.

    Don’t tax efficiency. But do coordinate industry, academic and community resources to ensure that technology-displaced workers have the opportunity and the means to learn marketable new skills.

  7. They should tax excavators, so a lot of people can be employed digging with a teaspoon. Can you imagine how many jobs have been replaced by technology? It raised our standard of living everytime. But this time it’s different according Bill.

    1. Actually no, the IRS doesn’t effectively tax income. By the time a multinational company sends its internal cash flows around the planet and lines the pockets of executives, the effective tax rates are miniscule. Meanwhile the end consumer pays direct VAT, sevice fees, road tax, etc to no end. It is time that the worst hoarders pay something on accumulated obscene wealth. Tax the value of corporate bank accounts that are not returned annually to investors at a 40% rate. Then you would see money put to work in the world.

  8. I agree with the example’s in the article that software that Gate’s designed like Excel also replaced a huge number of workers and yet he didn’t ask the govt. to tax Msft. more.

    Over and over again I see rich people like Gates hypocritically saying the govt. should raise taxes AS LONG AS they tax the OTHER GUY.

    (Long term the solution is better education, and the reduction of the world’s population — stats show increases of population of 2 billion or more i.e equal to 6-7 USAs in 30-50 years which is not sustainable).

    1. So depressing. The news is so full of idiocy today.

      Gates is worried about government revenue?

      Seriously? He must realize that even if we did do something so ridiculous for such an asinine reason, that ultimately it is the consumer who will pay the tax. If ever there was any doubt that Microsoft was the world’s greatest industrial accident, it should be cleared up now.

      1. “Oh, no, Bill Gates is worried that “the government” might “lose income-tax revenue!””
        Dumb ass take because you didn’t read the article. Our country has already seen the rapid effects of cost cutting on employment and stagnant wages over the last 20 years. Did you really miss the dynamic in this past election? The societal impact has been dramatic in many ways (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opioid_crisis) and Gates is suggesting ways to work through the accelerating displacement of workers and attendant income loss.

  9. Next? Tax people who drive themselves rather than hire a chauffer? Tax people who wash their own clothes rather than hire a live in maid? Tax people who cook at home rather than dining out?

    ID10T error alert!

  10. As usual on this forum, some people go to the extremes and employ hyperbole to support or trash a topic. Kessler is no better, really, when he refers to Gates as a Luddite.

    First of all, some of Kessler’s examples are total bunk. The Detroit bailout did *not* occur because of increased gas mileage standards. They resulted from a combination of poor choices on the part of U.S. car companies combined with a very bad economic environment for which they were unprepared. Honda and Toyota seemed to do OK. Similarly, the 2.3% tax on medical devices did not and will not stifle innovation in that technology area…not when the medical price markups are so incredibly high. Legal liability concerns are a vastly bigger concern to the medical device market than a small tax, especially when that tax revenue helps more people to access the health care market and utilize those medical devices. Think about it…do not let your political paradigm filter out the facts, truth, or reason.

    Second, there is a distinct difference between the new equilibrium in the job market that eventually develops after an economic or technology disruption (essentially Kessler’s argument) and the short-term turmoil and pain that occurs during the transition period. If we are smart, we plan for the transitions, understanding that it will take some time and resources to retrain displaced workers. If we are stupid, then we just blindly let things happen as they will, producing a lot of unemployed blue collar workers, many of whom will end up needing government assistance, anyway. Why not plan ahead and help these folks retain their dignity and sense of self-worth? It also likely makes a lot of economic sense compared to inflating the number of people collecting unemployment and other services.

    I have posted on these issues in the past, but it seems to slip by most people. I said many years ago and many times since then that manufacturing can and will eventually come back to the United States in the form of highly automated factories assembling high value-added products such as iPhones. A high degree of automation pushes down the impact of U.S. labor rates by reducing the number of labor hours per widget. This has already begun in China – you may recall Foxconn’s plan to install one million robots in their factories that produce Apple iOS products. While they have not reached that goal, to my knowledge, they have made significant progress towards it. That would be worthy of a long term case study.

    A key issue with bringing manufacturing back into the U.S. is that the component supply chains have disappeared. They will have to be recreated, and that is a significant hurdle. It would be like building a refinery without having ready access to crude oil.

    The consequences of automation? That is where it could get problematic for society. Over the next few decades, an increasing number of jobs will revolve around designing, building, programming, maintaining, and installing robots and other automated devices. Eventually, we may get to a point at which robots are also doing all of these things, too – at that point, human beings will potentially have a lot more time for leisure, intellectual pursuits, sports, recreation, and the arts, assuming that we have not already overpopulated and/or destroyed the Earth. The good future is the mostly peaceful United Federation of Planets in Star Trek with people still busy doing all kinds of interesting things. The bad future is exemplified in various STTOS episodes, such as “The Mark of Gideon,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

    *If* we make an effort to retrain displaced workers and to reasonably distribute some of the increased wealth that will result from the higher productivity of automated factories, then society might adjust fairly peacefully.

    *If* the increased productivity and wealth enabled through automation is largely concentrated in the top 1% of the population, then you will see high unemployment and an ever-increasing divide between the rich and poor with a small middle class of white collar professions. The frustration that would result in this scenario will eventually lead to riots and rebellion. Look to China as one of the leading indicators of trends in this area. China has a large rural population, and many of its citizens are under-educated for the ongoing technological transition. Tens of millions of younger Chinese people have already left the farms to work in the massive factories owned by corporations like Foxconn, reminiscent of the factor mining towns in the U.S. in the past. China cannot keep growing its economy at a 10% rate. In addition, one must also consider the impacts of automation on factory jobs. If these workers are displaced, then where will they go? Some may try to go back to the farms, but most will likely resist such a move, even if the rural population could absorb the return flow. China is racing through its industrialization much faster than the U.S. did. In my opinion, China is running along a knife-edge of economic growth with the likely result being a major collapse and massive civil unrest within a few decades.

    The takeaway, in my opinion, is that it is foolish to continue to pursue policies that increasingly concentrate wealth among the privileged few. The wealthy can remain wealthy and the number of wealthy can grow with a growing economy without impoverishing the majority. Any job that is worth doing is worthy of a living wage, including the full range of service jobs. And planning ahead to retrain workers to adapt to economic and technological disruptions is just common sense. It not only makes economic sense, but it is also the moral and ethical path to enable these people to maintain a sense of dignity and worth as opposed to discarding them like an obsolescent or unneeded tool in the name of profit.

  11. Guess “Watson” could help the robots do their income tax return.

    Gates is planning to avoid taxes on his estate by giving it to charity, same as Buffet. Maybe we should have a wealth tax on those with over $100 million in wealth. 10% a year. $6 B a year in taxes would help. After all who really needs more than a $100 MM to live on.

  12. I find it interesting that conservatives cry foul when jobs are sent over seas, yet say nothing when those jobs are kept in the USA but given to robots, which don’t earn overtime, pay income tax, or health benefits.

    Robotics is the new slave labor. I see a lot of hypocracy here. Oh bring jobs back, during the election, but fuck robe workers, after January 20th. You can’t have it both ways.

    You need to pay the people. They are not asking for a free hand out. They are not asking for entitlements. They are demanding opportunity. If you don’t give them opportunity, I swear you will lose it all and won’t have a say about it. It will be messy and it will be bloody. Have you not studied history?

    America’s strongest years we’re when the middle class was the strongest. This is the truth. It doesn’t have to be steel or coal. But it could be solar or wind farms. It could be a lot of other modern work, environmentally friendly. This isn’t tree hugger sentiment, it’s a realization that temperament and balance needs to exist for use to live the happiest and longest. Greed is our evil.

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