Every once in awhile one hears something so incredibly stupid that a double take is required. Count Bill Gates’ idea that robots that replace human workers should be taxed among those incredulous statements. In fact, more than a double take is required when one factors into account it was a leading figure behind the personal computer revolution who said such a thing. The suggestion that the government should tax machines would have made impossible all of the productivity gains computers have provided. It would have held our species back. Bill Gates proposing to tax robots that replace humans is Neo-Luddism, plain and simple.
Remember the Luddites? They were 18th century British textile workers who resisted the mechanization of the industry because it was replacing human laborers. Imagine if they had succeeded in lobbying the government to pass a tax on those machines. Perhaps the tax would expand to cover other industries as well. The industrial revolution could very well have stalled entirely with such an obstacle in its place. Businesses wouldn’t risk trying new technology if a tax was to be imposed. Many would stick with their inefficient human laborers, damning society to stagnation. We could still be weaving cloth by hand to this very day under such a system.
Suggesting that the government tax robots that replace human workers in the 21st century is no different. It would stall the impending second industrial revolution and hinder human progress. Trying to preserve today’s jobs by slowing the growth of technology is merely a rehashing the same Luddism. It ignores the fact that the entire point of technology is to reduce labor and thereby improve humanity’s standard of living.
It’s amazing how someone this smart can be so dumb! How many people directly lost their jobs due to computers? Robots are just more functional computers. If the government had imposed large taxes on PCs and software its probable that no one would even know who Bill Gates is. All labor saving devices take people’s jobs by definition. Does Gates believe all tools and equipment should be taxed, with the goal of making sure all work is done entirely by hand? If so, it’s a good thing there was no stone age Bill Gates advising the cavemen.
Perhaps it’s the thought that this tax would only apply to (evil) businesses that makes it so appealing for big government supporters. To make it more relatable, they should imagine what it would be like if the labor saving devices they have in their own homes were subject to such a tax:
Let’s put a big tax on dishwashers, laundry machines, vacuum cleaners, etc. so that every American family would be forced to hire outside help to do all the housework by hand. All of these appliances are putting housekeepers out of work.
It takes time to realize how much of modern life has already been helped by technology that replaced human workers. Once one does, Bill Gates’ idea to tax robots that replace human workers becomes as ridiculous as the philosophy of the Luddites who fought against 18th century textile machines. This Neo-Luddism should be opposed by all who support increasing human beings’ quality of life.