Magazine October 28, 2019, Issue

Don’t Tax Robots (Yet)

A robot at a science and technology commission during a demonstration at the Chilean Congress in Valparaiso, October 2, 2019 (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)
There’s a job apocalypse looming, but it won’t arrive for a bit

While most of the Democratic presidential candidates were busy trying to come up with the most extreme proposals possible on health care, guns, and climate change, New York mayor Bill de Blasio earned his ill-fated campaign a brief flurry of media attention by endorsing an idea once backed by Bill Gates: tax robots to mitigate the reduction in human employment that they are expected to cause.

This is a bad idea in the current economy. Some day not all that far in the future, though, it might make a lot of sense.

The problem with taxing automation right now is that there’s

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