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Robotics EU The Almighty Buck

EU Commissioner Says No to Bill Gates' Robot Tax Idea (fortune.com) 128

Andrus Ansip, the European Commissioner in charge of the Digital Single Market, has said that he does not support Bill Gates' idea of taxing robots that replace human workers. From a report: Microsoft founder Gates made an argument for robots incurring taxes equivalent to that worker's income taxes during an interview in February. "Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed," he said. "If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you'd think that we'd tax the robot at a similar level." But Ansip has made it clear that he is not in favor of a robot tax. Speaking during a CNBC-hosted panel at the Pioneers tech conference in Vienna on Thursday, Ansip said the "aim of taxation is not just (to) collect revenues... but to increase salaries of teachers and police," CNBC reports. "No way. No way," he added, when asked if he would support the tax.
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EU Commissioner Says No to Bill Gates' Robot Tax Idea

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  • A reduction in tax income means a reduction in overall ability for the gov to spend... which in turn means smaller money pot to pay teachers and police.

    I'm sure they'll find another way, such as property tax rates for commercial vs personal.

    • More like long-sighted... It's too early to tax this stuff, the robots haven't replaced humans on a large enough scale yet... it's like taxing cars on roads before there are enough cars. Robots replacing crappy jobs is a good thing for everyone, because in the future that means society as a whole is more efficient, the monetary displacement however needs to be corrected after the fact, otherwise you are removing the incentive for that shift to take place.
      • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

        otherwise you are removing the incentive for that shift to take place

        The incentive is to reduce costs for the owners of the businesses those robots serve. This simultaneously allows them to undercut competition that still relies on humans, while making more profit than before. Great!

        Though in the end everyone will have robots. Profits would stabilize if it were only a small industry that is affected, but the concern is that this will spread across most industries. Big problem.. when most of the workers now have no money, then the profits cease across the board.

        This is th

    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@gm a i l . com> on Friday June 02, 2017 @12:46PM (#54535777)

      They didn't tax Excel, VisiCalc or Lotus 1-2-3 even when they put entire floors of people out of jobs in accounting rooms in larger businesses...

      So why should they tax the "robots" being used to automate other jobs?

      Gates seemed to be fine when it was his product doing the automation, I don't see whats all that different about this situation.

      • The fear is that, because of robots and AI, there will not be enough jobs to go around to give most people a living wage, on which a tax can be levied so we can support those without jobs as well. The current market model doesn't distribute income equally but it does a decent enough job of it, and it provides an incredible amount of freedom. But once most people will be jobless, that model will fail in a big way. What does an economy with a 95% unemployment rate look like? The government will have to fi
        • The fear is that, because of robots and AI, there will not be enough jobs to go around to give most people a living wage, on which a tax can be levied so we can support those without jobs as well.

          How is that *any* different to any of the other times civilisation has come across this problem in its several tens of thousands of years on this planet?

          • Historically, we've replaced some jobs with automation and people have migrated to other jobs that the automation wasn't capable of. This time around, we're getting to the point where AI and robotics are good enough to replace anything a human can do. Automation will be able to do your job better than you can, and you can forget migrating to another job because the robots can do the other job just as well as you can too.

            That is fundamentally different from any of the last times this happened.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Bill gates had the good sense to make his products so bad that for every accounting clerk dismissed, 2 IT people had to be hired.

        It is not likely that the captains of Robot/AI industry will have the same vision, insight and moral strength that Bill Gates had.

    • by neonv ( 803374 )

      Machinery, robots, and automation have been taking over jobs for hundreds of years. Humans have been resisting those automation takeovers for just as long. The earliest of these are Luddites. they smashed up weaving machinery because it was taking over their jobs. Below is the link, very interesting read.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      However, despite all the automation and machinery over the centuries, the number of jobs available have continued to increase. Rather than completely replacing jobs, au

      • by nomadic ( 141991 )

        "However, despite all the automation and machinery over the centuries, the number of jobs available have continued to increase."

        Just because that's happened in the past doesn't mean it will continue to happen.

    • The only way it could be a reduction in tax revenue is if the unemployment permanently raised. As of now, there's no indication that this will be the case. Every 20 years or so this issue comes up, and each time people flip out about it for nothing.

      Incoming "just because we recovered in the past doesn't mean we will this time", but it's a bullshit argument that just assumes that people will just stop trying to obtain an income, and if that is the case, then the UBI proposal is doomed to lazy fucks.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @12:13PM (#54535447)
    Government relies on income and sales taxes to disproportionate degree. With robots taking over, there won't be enough money to support social programs or even local government. We will quickly get to unified world government, but it will be controlled by multinationals that own these robots.
    • by nomadic ( 141991 )

      And of course, with people out of work because of the robots, the multinationals won't have anybody able to buy their products.

      • Robots with Bitcoins (or Ether) can biuy their products.

      • by sinij ( 911942 )

        And of course, with people out of work because of the robots, the multinationals won't have anybody able to buy their products.

        This isn't as big of a problem as you think. They will just switch to B2B.

    • Government relies on income and sales taxes to disproportionate degree.

      Income taxes are not the problem. Not collecting them from certain persons or organizations is the problem. Endless war is the problem.

      We will quickly get to unified world government, but it will be controlled by multinationals that own these robots.

      Nope. They will be kept in check by governments holding monopolies on force. Before they become that powerful, they will be co-opted or destroyed.

      • by sinij ( 911942 )

        Nope. They will be kept in check by governments holding monopolies on force.

        How successful is China in censoring Tienanmen Square worldwide? Not at all. How long did it take to catch Dread Pirate Robers by the nation that currently represents pinnacle of force? This will get extrapolated even further difficulties applying this force as we get further intertwined with technology.

        • How successful is China in censoring Tienanmen Square worldwide? Not at all.

          What relevance does that have in this discussion? None at all.

          • by sinij ( 911942 )

            This was a reply, with relevant quote included in the post, to "They will be kept in check by governments holding monopolies on force".
             
            The governments are not successful keeping in check any kind of modern non-government entities, from dissidents, to terrorist organization, to multinationals dodging taxes. It reasons, they won't be able to do anything about multinationals controlling highly portable robotic workforce.

            • The governments are not successful keeping in check any kind of modern non-government entities, from dissidents, to terrorist organization, to multinationals dodging taxes.

              Sigh. Those three kinds of organizations are fundamentally different, and conflating them only makes you look like a child. The fundamental difference is that laws which permit multinationals to not have to pay taxes are bought by the multinationals. What they are doing is overwhelmingly legal. Dissidence and terrorism are both illegal in China, but their society naturally produces dissidents and terrorists because of its very restrictiveness. (Ours produces them because of its dependence on compromising ed

              • by sinij ( 911942 )
                Corporation just like terrorism is an idea. Corporate ownership is not really easy to trace, with shell corporations and complex offshoring structures it takes an army of forensic accountants with access to books to untangle this. Robot workforce will just show up and leave, and unless specific government is willing to outlaw all private ownership of robots it won't be effective at stopping this.
                • Corporation just like terrorism is an idea.

                  No, it's a legal entity. It's more than an idea, it's an idea backed up by the force of law. Without the blessing of law, in fact, it cannot even exist. Banks won't recognize it, for example, so it can't transact business — it's not feasible for corporations of any size to do everything with cash. And banks can only operate with the blessing of government.

                  Corporate ownership is not really easy to trace,

                  Irrelevant. Corporate assets have mass and take up space, and are not so hard to trace.

                  Robot workforce will just show up and leave,

                  Robot workforce will just show up and get deactivated by any

    • He's not, he's either confused or being disingenuous (I suspect the latter because he's not that stupid). Robots aren't "earning" income, they don't have bank accounts in which they deposit their salaries, they don't use their income to pay for robot kids or beer etc. Robots are presently property ... because they're just machines ... "taxing robots" is not taxing robots, it's taxing the human being that owns the robot (means of production). It's the human owners of the robot who then have less money to fee

    • Government relies on income and sales taxes to disproportionate degree. With robots taking over, there won't be enough money to support social programs or even local government. We will quickly get to unified world government, but it will be controlled by multinationals that own these robots.

      I'd love to see a wealth tax at some point, say starting at 200x the average wage or something along those lines. Enough to allow a person a reasonable retirement but beginning to be a luxury tax above a certain threshold. Inheritance taxes (ie death taxes) also desperately need to return. The surest way to reduce the "I've got mine F--- the rest" is to force each generation to earn their own way. If the 1% didn't have trust funds then suddenly opportunity would become more of an interest to them instea

  • ... or lose funds. No taxes, no government spending, no government spending, no way to keep all these unemployed people feeded.

    Perhaps he'll suggest that they just have to eat cake if there is no bread....

    I do understand why not: taxing robots, would keep industry and production out of Europe. Evidently, if robot work is taxed in the EU, the robots will be put in non-EU countries, including the few non-robot workers who still do pay taxes... Not good for the economy (well, until nobody can buy goods a

    • No they won't have to. Instead of adding up all the different kinds of robots in a company, you can simply tax the whole company a fixed percentage of its sales.

      Taxing individual robots makes things very complicated.

      • As a citizen of one of the countries that is "misused" for tax evasion, ehm, I mean "tax optimization", I can tell you that is going to get pretty ugly very quickly. After some documents came public, some large multinationals pay less taxes than me and my spouse together. They're going to continue to do that. It's in the nature of large corporations.

        While taxing robots might be difficult from an accounting perspective (Good! More accountant jobs... or accountant AI jobs), you can quantify robots and the

        • some large multinationals pay less taxes than me and my spouse together.

          Taxing robots won't fix that, though.

        • There's an easy fix, though. Ban those companies from doing business in your country, until they start paying what they owe.

          "But you'll lose jobs!" cry the companies. What jobs? It's all robots anyway.

      • And how is that going to work? You can't have a fixed rate of tax for all companies. Not all of them have a very high margin like Apple. Many companies in the retail sector work on very slim margins and try to make it up in volume. So if you set your tax rate for a company such as Apple it's going to always force retail companies into the red in a big way. But if you set it up for the retail companies then people will complain that Apple doesn't pay much tax. What about companies that don't make money bu

        • Many companies in the retail sector work on very slim margins and try to make it up in volume

          Even if the margin is very slim, you can still tax a percentage without hurting them too much. Or you can make up a progressive tax structure.

  • The EU took the right stance. Even Yanis Varoufakis has said that the idea of taxing robots does not work. This is what needs to be done instead: https://www.weforum.org/agenda... [weforum.org]

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @12:23PM (#54535537) Journal
    I'm going to point at all you fools and laugh myself silly when robots don't take everyones' jobs.
    Even Chicken Little is going to point and laugh derisively, shaking his chicken-head sadly at how dumb humans can be.

    Some people just want to watch the world burn.
    Then there are some people who, for some inexplicable reason, just want to run around, waving their arms like madmen, doom-saying like there's no tomorrow.
    For some reason they seem to be the same people who obsessively correct peoples' grammar and spelling, and nitpick choice of one word over another in a sentence. Anyone got any ideas on why that is?
    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      I'm going to point at all you fools and laugh myself silly when robots don't take everyones' jobs. Even Chicken Little is going to point and laugh derisively, shaking his chicken-head sadly at how dumb humans can be. Some people just want to watch the world burn. Then there are some people who, for some inexplicable reason, just want to run around, waving their arms like madmen, doom-saying like there's no tomorrow. For some reason they seem to be the same people who obsessively correct peoples' grammar and spelling, and nitpick choice of one word over another in a sentence. Anyone got any ideas on why that is?

      It's always the wishful thinker that perishes first because they can't see the train coming straight at them. Unfortunately, that vivid mind full of sunshine, rainbows and unicorns can't stop a speeding bullet.

      • So which is it: Do you have a Time Machine and you're from the robot-controlled future, here to warn us here in the past (nevermind the violation of basic safety rules with regards to temporal mechanics, paradoxes, etc)? Or do you have a Magic Mirror that can see into the future?

        Or are you just young, and haven't been around long enough to see at least one other cycle of this sort of 'The Sky Is Falling!' nonsense before?
        Go read some history books. Go find old newspaper stories from decades past. Or, at
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm going to point at all you fools and laugh myself silly

      And we'll point and laugh at you when you're in the unemployment line because we don't need quite as many truckers anymore. Have you had your eyes closed for the last 50 years, if you're even that old? Have you not read history about industrialization? We've been reducing human labor and replacing it with automation since the damned Cotton Gin! Notice I said automation not 'robots' I am not using the colloquial definition of that word. I define autom

    • and at least read the Wikipedia page. There were decades of unemployment & social strife following the industrial revolution until two World Wars thinned the herd and tech caught up a bit. History is not on your side. We're already seeing massive underemployment due to productivity increases. The auto companies are laying folks off because they're making more cars than people can buy (e.g. too much inventory).

      When you see a smoldering pile of dried twigs during a drought you shouldn't just move alon
      • Since you and some others seem to be SO informed and SO wise, what do you suggest I do? Panic and run around waving my arms like an idiot like the rest of you are doing? 'React' instead of 'act'? Make shit up that I THINK will shield me from the Brave New World Order everyone seems to think is coming? Sell everything I own and buy gold bars, go hide in a cabin somewhere in Montana until it's all over? Or maybe {insert equally ridiculous nonsense here}?

        STUFF AND NONSENSE.

        Know what I'm going to do? NO
        • I suggest you vote for the most left leaning candidate you can get. Look up the Justice Democrats if you're in the states. Tell everyone you know to do the same. Take care of the poor and make sure they're fed, clothed and given healthcare and housing. Otherwise a demagogue/populist will organize them against you like they did in WWII.
          • Finally, in the aftermath of the 2016 election debacle, and with as much fucking-up as Trump is doing to the country, I've had to do something I really didn't want to do, but feel I have no choice anymore (which angers me): re-registering from Independent ('fail to state', really) to Democrat. In 2020 we'll have to do everything we can to reverse and repair all the damage being done, and hope it's not too late.
  • Automation saves the company money. They have to pay taxes on that increased revenue. Since that extra revenue is tagged onto their existing revenue the money gets taxed at a higher level than if it was going to employees.

    • It's not an increase in revenue; it's a decrease in costs.

      Because of all sorts of economic factors that boil down to competition, businesses make a certain amount of profit. To profit, they must draw revenue in excess of costs. In the most-basic sense, revenue must exceed the wage costs, or else you can't pay your workers; each business in the supply chain has some profit margin which sets prices, and the entire stack can be squashed by major deals (e.g. a steelmaker buying hundreds of millions of tonne

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      That implies that those companies are actually paying taxes, the problem is many multinationals aren't paying their share of taxes and go very long and hard to use loopholes in tax laws to avoid paying them. Long-term offsets against losses I can get, deferments of taxes in bad years is also fine. But when you're making money hand over fist like NBCUniversal, GE, Google, Apple or Amazon is and you're not paying anything or next to nothing.

      If a person can abuse the system, then an organization will too. A

      • Apple is paying next to nothing? We can argue about whether they should be paying more, but let's please not engage in such blatant hyperbole. They're the single largest US taxpayer. The US has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, and unlike most other nations, they tax profits globally instead of regionally, which is why US-based companies jump through hoops to move it all overseas. And because of the high tax rate when it's moved to the US, that money stays *out* of the US, doing us no

  • Abandon income tax (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @12:28PM (#54535583)

    Bill Gates is right that current tax systems incentivise companies to hire as few workers as possible. But I believe the solution is not a "robot tax", because it's not easy to define what a robot is, how much money it "makes", and automation may not even come in the form of robots. I think the best solution would be to abandon the income tax altogether, relying instead on corporate and sales taxation.

    • Sales tax is great. It'll keep those poors where they belong.

      Seriously, income tax is the best form of tax. Anyone who proposes a sales tax and corporate taxes as a solution to anything has neither an understanding of how any part of economics works at all nor an ability to reason critically about anything.

      • Seriously, income tax is the best form of tax.

        Except when nobody has income.

        • All taxation has a downside - many people propose a "wealth tax" as a way to fix most of those issues, but then you run into situations where the "wealth" is virtual and not liquid.

          Here in the UK we have a local tax intended to fund local and regional councils - the "council tax", which you get billed for once a year. Its based on your property - the more expensive the property, the larger your tax bill.

          The problem is that the tax bands largely haven't changed for more than a couple of decades - meanwhile

          • many people propose a "wealth tax" as a way to fix most of those issues, but then you run into situations where the "wealth" is virtual and not liquid.

            "Wealth Tax" just means people want to grab a chunk of some idle money. That's essentially printing money: money in banks unspent doesn't purchase goods, which means it doesn't provide the revenue stream that supports jobs, which means spending it creates inflation in the same way that removing money creates deflation.

            A lot of people fail to understand this because banks loan money on hand (and fractional reserve). Thing is, money is generally moved between bank accounts: you get paid, it goes into y

          • by Pembers ( 250842 )

            Your council tax band is based on what your home was worth in 1991, when the tax was introduced, so it's not affected by subsequent changes in property prices. If your council tax has gone up, it's because your council needs or wants to spend more money.

        • If nobody has income, how will you take their income through any other form of taxation?

          You can represent every tax as an income tax. A sales tax at 6%, for a household which sends 40% of its income to purchases subject to a sales tax, is a 2.4% income tax. A sales tax at 45%, for the same household, is an 18% income tax. For an upper-class household which directs 80% of its income mutual funds, CDs, 401(k)s, and non-taxable purchases, those numbers are 1.2% and 9%.

          That's why sales tax is cited as a

      • Sales tax is great. It'll keep those poors where they belong.

        All problems related to sales tax being regressive and thus unfair to the poor are solved by

        1. 1) Tax refunds. Sales tax credits exist in many countries and are paid out to poor folks - usually those too poor to pay any income tax, btw - to level out the "regressiveness".
        2. 2) Keeping the sales tax very low or non-existent on essential items (e.g. milk, bread).

        Income taxes are bad because they make labour more expensive. Back in the 1950s, when automation was not as much of a thing and when it used mainly to get

        • So, increasing the price of goods such that demand is reduced and fewer long-term jobs exist is somehow solved by giving spikes of frantic purchasing at the end of the year?

          Income taxes are bad because they make labour more expensive

          Payroll taxes do that. Income taxes do a similar thing, but on the other end.

          Income taxes don't drive prices up like sales and payroll taxes. They also have the great virtue of capturing a proportion of productivity by a direct representation, instead of dancing around the issue and pretending money is wealth.

          Back in the 1950s, when automation was not as much of a thing and when it used mainly to get humans to work faster (not replace them), it didn't matter.

          Wages are pay per tim

          • Your delusion about rich people managing to avoid paying taxes doesn't hold up to reality. At all.

            You are the one who is being deluded, I'm afraid, since your long-winded and rather pointless example makes one fatal error - it assumes that everybody making that sort of money will actually honestly declare all of their earnings. You missed the part where the money gets shuffled off to a tax haven. Or siphoned off through one of many industry- and occupation-specific loopholes that in exist in various tax codes. Not to mention using "regulatory arbitrage" (find a way to declare your income as the least-ta

            • You missed the part where the money gets shuffled off to a tax haven.

              That's done by businesses purchasing their goods and services from a subsidiary off-shore. The CEO, however, still gets his executive compensation in the United States.

              We're talking about, for example, 18.5 trillion dollars [blogspot.ca] hidden away in tax havens by wealthy individuals (not corporations hiding profits). We're talking about even Buffet, for whom we can I suppose presume that he is doing all things legally (i.e. not illegally hiding his wealth in Liechtenstein or the British Virgin Islands), saying that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. [cnn.com]

              These are people who take their money, pay taxes on it as I described, put it in a foreign bank, and make foreign investments in a foreign land. Then, they don't pay taxes in their home country (e.g. United States) because their income-generating activities are occurring completely outside the tax jurisdiction of their home country.

              I've

  • When even the tax-happy EU decides against passing It.
    • I agree with the concept of increasing taxation on corporations as automation increases to fund UBI, but a "robot tax" seems like an incredibly ham-fisted way to do it. The complexity of it is staggering - every (new?) robot would now be a taxpayer that someone has to do taxes for and the government would have to keep track of. It would also incentivize jurisdiction shopping - country X imposed a robot tax? Move factory to country Y. Maybe just put the factory on a barge and change flags as required.

      Just cl

  • The European Commissioner in charge of the Digital Single Market
    Can be replaced by a robot.

  • Wookie defense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ezdiy ( 2717051 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @12:40PM (#54535719)
    I'm not an english speaker, can one tell me how:

    Aim of taxation is not just (to) collect revenues... but to increase salaries of teachers and police

    Is related to robot tax in *any* way? Does he mean since there will be robots, police and teachers etc will be no longer necessary, thus government expenses will be vastly lower and ensuing gap in income tax will be a non-issue? Or police and teachers will be robots too, so it all cancels out? I just have grave difficulty connecting "we need teachers" (?) and "this is why we must not tax robots" in logically coherent manner.

  • and the factories will move to south Sudan where the robot tax is 0

  • Oh, you don't favor a tax to increase education (which is rather highly-valued in the EU?)

    That's almost guaranteed to be your ass there.

  • ... you're not the taxman.

    Do not cometh and please shut the fuck up.

  • ... to hire more?

    Switch to a flat tax (a lower rate than is charged now) with one deduction allowed: Wages paid to US resident workers.

  • I advocate to buy hand made when it's a viable option. I was asked at Home Depot to move to the self checkout lane when the cashier got backed up. I refused the manager telling him that by using the hourly cashier helps insure their employment and thus helps society. Using self checkout only encourages reduced employment and opportunities for those without the needed skills for higher paying jobs.

    I cannot buy hand made for everything, but small stances like these delay the inevitable automation sink hole
  • that tax would have been ridiculous. If you're gonna tax robots than you should also tax calculators and other automated processes..
  • Far better to simply implement a VAT on the production and services and be done with it.
  • The sad fact is governments already inhale productivity increases by keeping borrowing proportional to GDP.

    So...taxing robots directly will slow their adoption, which will slow the GDP increase, which will slow the ability to borrow hand over fist from your grandchildren in order to hand out goodies to the current voting generation that have little to do with war or infrastructure, the old-fashioned, quaint idea of things it was moral to borrow from future generations for, because it benefited them.

  • What robots are we taxing? Multipurpose vehicles with automation features? Automated soldering robot arms in vehicle factories? Software with neural networks for sorting large quantities of data? On demand 3D printers? An Excel spreadsheet? Weaving loom? An abbacus?

    See where I'm geting at? There is no clear and consistent definition of what a robot is. If it's about machines taking jobs that could be done by humans, it's every single tool since the dawn of times. If it's about specific sets of machinery tha

  • The era of income tax to finance governments is nearing its end.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.

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