TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Humans vs. Robots: Rethinking Policy For A More Sustainable Future

Kathryn Kisska-Schulze (Clemson University College of Business) & Karie Davis-Nozemack (Georgia Institute of Technology), Humans vs. Robots: Rethinking Policy For A More Sustainable Future, 79 Md. L. Rev. ___ (2020):

Robotic and software innovation threatens to displace one third of the global workforce by 2030. Widespread worker displacement would decimate U.S. social safety net funding. To address these issues, Bill Gates and others have proposed a robot tax. A robot tax, while elegant on its face, masks the underlying tension between innovation and employment tax policies. Only by examining the foundational principles of these two policies is it evident that their dissonance can only be harmonized by requiring these policies to remain faithful to their original objectives.

Innovation policy has strayed from its twin economic and social welfare objectives. As economic progress has more recently eclipsed the importance of social goals, innovation policy no longer works in concert with employment tax policy. Indeed, insofar as innovation policy fosters workforce automation substitution to the detriment of the U.S. social safety net, it undermines employment tax policy. Employment tax policy never contemplated the extent and sudden arrival of automation substitution in the workforce. In its current form, the employment tax is insufficiently robust to adjust to automation substitution. Consequently, a new approach to tax policy analysis is needed.

The intersection of innovation and tax is an undertheorized area. This article highlights the tension that automation creates amongst employment tax and innovation policies by identifying the fundamental objectives that motivate each policy. This paper is the first to harmonize the dissonance between innovation and employment tax policy, the first to use the lens of sustainability to address the dissonance, and the first to introduce sustainable taxation as a superior approach for crafting tax policy and for harmonizing employment tax and innovation policies, in particular.

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