My letter to the NY Times re: Taxing both workers and robots out of existence

Re: Don’t Fight the Robots, Tax Them, by Eduardo Porter
Dear Sirs:
I suppose we should be pleased that Mr. Porter is a Luddite-lite; i.e., he doesn’t want to smash new machinery out of existence but use the tax code to accomplish the same thing. Mr. Porter seems most concerned that government will lose payroll tax revenue, should machines replace workers. (I’ll leave it for another day to remind everyone that workers will not be completely eliminated. Rather they will be re-employed making…wait for it…robots!) Mr. Porter claims that avoiding a payroll tax is the same as getting a tax subsidy, and that’s where the interesting bit of twisted logic appears. According to Mr. Porter’s logic, the bigger the payroll tax the bigger the supposed subsidy for robots. Therefore, logic requires that every increase in the payroll tax be accompanied by an increase in the robot tax. Nice little circular argument, isn’t it, for ever greater taxes on both people and robots. Unfortunately, should government adopt Mr. Porter’s tax regime, society will find that it gets neither workers nor robots.
Patrick Barron
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