Bill Gates is calling for a robot tax to save human jobs. Photo: Anastasiia Cherygova.
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Halting progress is sure to create more problems than it solves

Beware the rise of the robots! These metallic strangers are coming to our shores to steal our jobs and cause the collapse of our society! Before you know it, we will all be ruled by artificial intelligence like in some sort of dystopian sci-fi novel!

At least, that’s what some would have you think, judging by the headlines circulating the news these days. The latest idea being floated about is that of a “robot tax”—a tax on companies that use robots instead of human workers. The problem is that this idea, in practice, is actually quite a bad one.

It’s all nice to talk about a robot tax when it comes to things like making cars, but the issue is that robotics don’t end there. How would feel if next time you needed surgery your doctor told you the surgeons would be using outdated technology because medical advances were too expensive?

Few people would be happy with that scenario, and hopefully no surgeon would be content either. And with good reason. It doesn’t make much sense to argue “let’s make our lives better by stopping improvements.” That’s essentially what the proponents of a robot tax are arguing.

New technology tends to open the door to a lot more new jobs than it takes away. Think, for instance, of mobile phones. Sure, jobs might have been lost in the rotary phone industry, but mobile phones still need to be built, apps need to programmed, operating systems need to be coded, new phone networks need to be established, among other tasks.

Again, the argument for a robot tax fails—while machines may take away some jobs, they will open the door to a lot more.

If the government really wants to create more employment opportunities and prepare society for the upcoming demographic shock and rise in automated work, there are plenty of others paths that it could take.

For instance, governments can start by cutting red tape so that it’s easier for people to find jobs and for people to create new businesses. They can also help out by making things like education and training more accessible and affordable so that people can get the skills they need for their life. Putting an emphasis on immigration and trade will also make it easier for people to find meaningful employment.

As with pretty much everything, the solution here is to empower people and give individuals the freedom to shape their own lives. The answer is not to pigeonhole people and tell them it’s for their own good. It’s not to create more bureaucracy and red tape. And it’s most definitely not a good idea to stop people and businesses from being creative and innovative.

This debate isn’t anything new. For as long as change and invention have been pushing society forward, there have also been people pulling us back. Since nobody can see into the future, it’s understandable that some people chose to be afraid of the unknown. But closed, cautious, protectionist societies can only stand still for so long until the currents of time will sweep them off their feet.

If the government really wants people to have jobs and to prosper, it can do so by giving them the tools and space to innovate and take charge of their own lives. It can’t do so by punishing innovation with taxes.