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Why Taxing Robots is a Fatally Flawed Idea



Published on

Oct 18, 2023

Some misguided people want to tax robots. Most realize this is a mistake.

Why Taxing Robots is a Fatally Flawed Idea

Word Count: 1081 Words

Read Time: 6 Minutes

Key Take Away: Over the years governments have done some foolish things. Taxing robots would be one of them.

In the age of technological advancements and automation, the debate surrounding the taxation of robots has gained significant traction. Automation is a powerful positive multiplier for the economy.

The talk about taxing robots isn’t the first time automation has been vilified. Post WWII America needed a surge in automation. The bombed out factories in other countries were rebuilding and adding the current state of the art equipment.

American factories didn’t have that same equipment and automation and so they needed to upgrade. At first the labor unions protested. Once they realized that automation was not a threat, but a boon because expanding businesses added more workers, the labor unions gave up opposition to automation.

Proponents argue that taxing robots can help fund social programs, address income inequality, and slow down the pace of automation. However, most economists agree, taxing robots is a flawed and shortsighted idea that may do more harm than good.

This blog post presents a comprehensive argument against taxing robots, focusing on economic implications and alternative solutions to address the challenges of automation.

  1. Innovation and Economic Growth

One of the primary reasons why taxing robots is a bad idea is its potential to stifle innovation and economic growth. Historically, technological advancements have been a driving force behind economic prosperity. Post WWII automation in the US was a boon to American manufacturing. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business study on automation shows that automation significantly increased the number of jobs. It did NOT decrease jobs as the pundits had forecaseted.

Taxing robots could disincentivize businesses from investing in automation, slowing down technological progress and hindering economic development. When businesses have the flexibility to allocate resources where they see fit, innovation thrives, leading to the creation of new industries, jobs, and opportunities for economic growth.

2. Job Creation and Preservation

Contrary to the belief that automation only destroys jobs, it also has the potential to create and preserve jobs. Taxing robots would likely lead to higher costs for businesses, which could result in reduced job opportunities. By contrast, when businesses can invest in automation without the burden of additional taxation, they can allocate resources more efficiently, creating new jobs in research and development, maintenance, and other sectors related to automation technology. Moreover, automation can make industries more competitive globally, preserving jobs that might otherwise be outsourced due to high labor costs.

3. Economic Efficiency

Efficiency is a cornerstone of economic progress. Taxing robots introduces inefficiencies into the economic system by discouraging businesses from adopting technologies that could improve productivity and reduce costs. When businesses are efficient, they can offer products and services at lower prices, benefiting consumers and promoting overall economic welfare. The added tax burden on robots would disrupt this efficiency and could ultimately hurt consumers through higher prices and reduced access to goods and services.

4. Ambiguity and Implementation Challenges

Taxing robots presents significant challenges when it comes to implementation and definition. What constitutes a "robot" for tax purposes? Would the tax apply to all forms of automation or only certain types? These questions lead to ambiguity and potential loopholes in the tax code. Additionally, the practical implementation of a robot tax could be cumbersome, requiring complex monitoring and auditing systems, further burdening businesses and government agencies.

5. Negative Impact on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)

Small businesses are America’s backbone. Most of the 19,000 machine shops in the US are small businesses. Taxing robots would disproportionately affect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These businesses often lack the financial resources of large corporations to absorb the additional costs associated with automation taxation. As a result, SMEs may be discouraged from adopting automation technologies, limiting their ability to compete and grow in the modern economy. This could lead to market concentration and reduced competition, which are detrimental to overall economic health.

6. Global Competitiveness

In a globalized economy, businesses need to remain competitive to thrive. Taxing robots puts businesses in one country at a disadvantage compared to those in countries without such taxation. As a result, businesses may choose to relocate their operations to countries with more favorable tax environments for automation, potentially leading to job losses and reduced economic activity in the taxing country. To remain competitive on the global stage, countries should encourage innovation and automation rather than imposing taxes that hinder progress.

Alternative Solutions

Rather than taxing robots, there are more effective and economically sound ways to address the challenges posed by automation:

  1. Education and Training: Governments and businesses can invest in education and training programs to equip the workforce with the skills needed to adapt to an increasingly automated world. This approach helps workers transition into new roles and industries, fostering economic resilience.
  2. Support for Research and Development: Governments can incentivize businesses to invest in research and development by offering tax credits or grants. This encourages the creation of innovative technologies that can drive economic growth.
  3. Labor Market Reforms: Governments can focus on labor market reforms that promote flexibility and worker mobility. Such reforms can help workers transition more easily between industries and occupations, reducing the negative impact of automation.
  4. Collaboration between Public and Private Sectors: Collaboration between governments and businesses can lead to the development of policies that promote responsible automation. This includes guidelines for worker retraining and managing the societal impact of automation. Doing this the right way is essential. Pittsburgh, a town know for making steel, shut down some of the steel mills. Someone had the bright idea to retrain the unemployed steel workers as computer programmers. That program was a complete disaster because most of the former steel workers lacked the required skill sets to become a programmer. They also lacked interest in the topic, so the program didn’t exactly perform as planned.


Taxing robots is a shortsighted and economically flawed idea that could hinder innovation, job creation, and overall economic growth. Instead of imposing additional burdens on businesses, governments should explore alternative solutions to address the challenges posed by automation.

These solutions should focus on education, income support, and collaboration between public and private sectors to ensure that automation benefits society as a whole.

In a rapidly changing world, it is essential to embrace technological progress while also mitigating its potential negative consequences in a thoughtful and economically sound manner.

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