Tax robots: Bill Gates is not alone

Bill Gates recently made ripples with his call to tax robots to prevent a social and economic disaster. That the cofounder of Microsoft was urging taking such a dramatic step spoke to its urgency. His proposal was met with skepticism. But he is not alone. British economist Robert Skidelsky envisions exactly that.

In an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nación, Skidelsky predicts a future of ill-paid workers. Moreover, they would do jobs they wouldn’t necessarily like, including caring for the elderly. Much of the rest, predictably, will be done by robots, from manufacturing to a growing range of services.

As Skidelsky sees it, there are two main avenues to cope with the challenges robots pose. One is shortening the workweek. The other is, simply, taxing robots. That should make discarding human workers to make room for machines more expensive. The goal would be to slow down the speed of job losses to automation. He also supports a system of minimum salaries paid by states to support an idle workforce.

To be sure, these are all palliatives. Within the next decade or two, Skidelsky sees more unemployment, populist political crises, even higher labor insecurity and people forced to accept jobs that pay very little.

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