The Bill Gates “Robot Tax” is as quaint as it is wrong
Kevin Zimmerman

Where are the robots?

An Oxford study has shown that robots and automation will replace nearly half of all jobs.

That it has not yet happened, or has been delayed, is due to the creation of what David Graeber calls bullshit jobs.

The classic bullshit jobs half a dozen migrants with dirty rags and a bucket of dirty water replacing an automated car wash.

What do we do with all these out of work workers? Do we let them starve, and who will consume the output of the robots if no one has any money?

The wages of US workers has flat lined since the 1970s. It is only debt that is paying for consumption

Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 have proposed a Universal Dividend, to share out the accumulated wealth.

Bill Gates has proposed a tax on robots. Though how would that apply to distributed artificial intelligence?

Kevin Zimmerman, based upon flawed analysis, says no, a robot tax will not work. He looks to the past, and makes the false assumption, the past is the same as the present and the future. He is wrong it is not.

First, let’s set aside the historical understanding in economics that robots — and technology in general — don’t steal humans’ jobs. To the average reader this may seem like heresy, but the majority of economists hold that technology does not destroy jobs, it merely shifts laborers into better jobs. (Sewing machines may have drastically shrunk the number of seamsters and seamstresses, but those individuals are now free to become nurses and chefs.) To think that technology permanently destroys employment opportunity, as Bill Gates suggests here, actually has a name: The Luddite Fallacy, named for a group of textile workers in the 19th century who opposed weaving machinery. Now the term Luddite is colloquially used as anyone who opposes technological progress. Ironic, that Bill Gates has suddenly become its poster child.

We are now post-capitalism. It is true, as Paul Mason describes in PostCapitalism, innovation led to new higher paid jobs, led to the next 50 year Kondratieff Cycle.

This has not happened post-capitalism, there is no new wave, the economy has flat-lined since 2008.

The only jobs we are seeing are bullshit jobs; part time, zero hours, insecure, precarious soul destroying mind numbing McShits jobs; serfs working for apps such as Uber and Deliveroo; atomised workers bidding against each other in negative auctions to drive down wages.

These jobs are not contributing to the tax base, they are so poorly paid, they are being subsidised by the state.

Classic Marx, cost is equal to land, labour and capital.

Post-modern Marx, we now have a fourth factor, information.

The cost of information is tending to zero, the cost of information goods is tending to zero.

Information, unless restricted by Draconian copyright and intellectual property, always has a tendency to flow. Once you know something, you cannot unknow it.

Information can be replicated at zero cost, or near zero cost. I can replicate e-books, digital music at zero cost, or as near as.

As Yanis Varoufakis raises, what do we tax, as I have already noted, we have distributed intelligence, and as Yanis Varoufakis points out, if a robot drives the machine, displacing the human who drove the machine, what if we simply build the intelligence into the machine?

An example of this would be Uber, serfs working for an app, often at less than the minimum wage. For Uber, this is a temporary model, they do not intend to replace the serf with a robot, they intend to replace the serf and his car with a self-driving car, though in light of the recent court action for allegedly stealing the technology from Google parent company Alphabet that day may be a long way off.

Larry Summers is also wrong, when he says we should not tax innovative technology. Yes, to a certain extent he is correct, but he is not addressing the underlying problem that information freely flows, what happens when vast swathes of the population are out of work?

On the other hand, if we accept, that freeing workers from mindless, soul destroying McShit jobs, is a good thing, it frees then to participate in the collaborative commons, to draw upon the collaborative commons, then we have to implement a Universal Dividend.

Technological innovation should be for the common good, not used to exploit precarious workers, to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.