Maybe we can tax the robots? Maybe that’s not the best plan.

Bill Gates suggested that we can tax the robots to pay for a transition to a more service-based economy. It sounds to me like that might be a bad idea. The Economist talks about how taxing robots will probably slow the transition to a more automated future. That transition is a good thing and slowing it down is probably a bad idea. The Economist also notes that taxing robots does not address the problem of demand. If robots are capable of producing more than humans (and they are) then there needs to be some mechanism to create additional demand. Taxing the robot and redistributing that money doesn’t create enough demand by itself. At best, it only partially offsets the exploitative potential of a company that can produce goods without paying people.

Hackernoon takes the position that the money should be taxed from the people who own robots. It’s a more direct answer to the oblique reference in the economist. An automated company can exploit the market by charging people for something without paying workers. That company will generate obscene profits. Those profits go to the rich. So tax the rich, right?

I suggest that both of these solutions (tax the rich or tax the robots) amount to the same thing and are both counterproductive.  The more demand there is, the faster will automate. The faster we automate the better. The important question is not “who do we tax?” The question should be “what do we spend money on to effectively increase demand by the right amount?”