The California Robot tax

by John McClaughry

The liberals in America’s most liberal city – San Francisco – have hit upon a bold new idea to create or maintain jobs. City leaders want the voters to Tax robot machinery to stop automation from replacing workers.

Jane Kim of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is spearheading the ballot initiative. The movement’s website says “The idea is simple: if an employer replaces a human worker with a robot or algorithm, he or she would pay a tax. If we can expect millions of Californians may lose their job, it is our responsibility to prepare now through a modest tax on the robots and algorithms taking their place.”

Right… a modest tax on robots and algorithms. Meanwhile, four California cities are competing to be the site of a huge Amazon distribution warehouse, likely to be largely operated by robots and algorithms.  Lotsa luck to them.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized “Employees displaced by technology might appreciate that these San Francisco politicians are concerned, but an apology might be more appropriate. Over the past few years, San Francisco in particular, and California in general, has increased the cost to hire and train employees at risk of being automated. The minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour in San Francisco in 2018. The rest of California will get there four years later.”

The good news is that some other state, run by less “progressive” people, will likely get Amazon’s investment.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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