March 06, 2017

Are we better off with robots able to compete with berry pickers than with those able to compete with CEOs?

Sir, Lawrence Summers hits out at the possibility of taxing robots and writes: “Surely it would be better for society to instead enjoy the extra output and establish suitable taxes and transfers to protect displaced workers? It is hard to see why shrinking the pie, rather than enlarging it as much as possible and then redistributing, is the right way forward.”, “Leave robots tax-free to assemble a profitable future” March 6.

Right on... BUT! On the first: why should “less-fortunate workers” be displaced only because they are burdened with for instance payroll taxes or minimum wages, while robots are not, and so that their owner/bosses can earn more?

On the second: why should we have those robots that compete at the lower end of the labor market, be the main pie enlargers? If robots were taxed, then they would have to be much more efficient, and we would perhaps have a better chance of getting the 1st class robots we really want our grandchildren to have at their disposal.

I mean does Professor Summers really feel that the economy has been enlarged when, instead of being able to exchange some words at the supermarket with a human cashier, we have to settle with an automated cashier giving us instructions with an automated voice, and turning us into their submissive servants?

PS. Bill Gates, who is far from being the first to speak about taxing robots, wants us to use those revenues to enlarge the franchise value of the redistribution profiteers. Other of us want to use these instead to partially fund a Universal Basic Income, which could be part of the tools needed to create decent and worthy conditions, for all those unemployments robots and automation cause. But, last time I read it, Professor Summers was on the side of those considering we cannot afford a UBI plan.

PS. When Professor Summers writes, “Why pick on robots?” I am sure he knows we are not only picking on robots but on any artificial substitute for humans efforts that has been inhumanly favored.

PS. Are American workers really competing against Chinese and Mexican workers, or against American, Chinese and Mexican robots?