Automation, innovation and the arrogance of the elite
In June 2016, Switzerland held a referendum on whether to introduce a guaranteed basic income (GBI) for all. Under such a system, governments regularly pay out a sum that would cover subsistence to each individual over the course of their entire lives. It was argued that since work was increasingly automated, fewer jobs were available. The measure was rejected by more than 75 percent of voters, despite a strong turnout from the proposal’s supporters.
Billionaire and Microsoft founder Bill Gates made a similar argument to that of the Swiss proposal’s supporters when he suggested the introduction of an income tax on robots, like that on employee wages. Proceeds of this tax would be used to provide a basic income for all to compensate for job losses and to ease inequality.
In January 2017, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee adopted a report on the consequences of the rise of robots and artificial intelligence. The report recommends that the member states adopt a guaranteed basic income for all, to compensate for the loss of jobs due to new technologies.
Sending the wrong message
It is no wonder that liberal Switzerland rejected GBI, since the values of self-responsibility and personal freedom are very strong in its civil society. Government is kept small and is considered a service provider. It is surprising, however, that Bill Gates, who with Microsoft spearheaded innovation and increased productivity in processes, is advocating measures such as GBI.
GBI will not only discourage innovation, but also send the wrong message concerning the work ethic. Certain parts of society might use this benefit to avoid education and work. It could create a new class of long-term government parasites. Living off public subsidies instead of on personal achievements deprives people of a good part of their dignity and sense of responsibility.
GBI will need financing, and it would result in increased taxes on the new means of production. Taxing robots, as proposed, will mean curbing innovation and, in consequence, reducing prosperity, especially for people with lower incomes.
In a post on LinkedIn, entrepreneur and author Anurag Harsh made a convincing case that we need not fear innovation; that robots will still need human guidance and that new jobs will be created. He quoted Henry Ford as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
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GIS opinion: Automation, innovation and the arrogance of the elite