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A robot tax punishes people

By Cian Hussey - posted Monday, 14 January 2019

Life is much better today than it ever has been in history. Since the Industrial Revolution, in particular, new technologies and labour-saving devices have benefited the average worker a great deal. Unfortunately, it seems that some people haven't got the memo yet.

In modern history, humans have demonstrated a fear of technological progress and its consequences. The Luddites took it upon themselves to destroy looms and knitting frames, which they feared would take their jobs, and it appears as though a Labor government would like to revive the primitive practice.

The Labor Party is tipped to back a new 'robot tax' which flies in the face of human progress and promises to constrain the ever-rising living standards the past few hundred years have brought us.


The new tax would be aimed at funding the retraining of workers displaced by technology so they can move into jobs of equivalent conditions and pay. In reality, the tax will punish those who innovate and who use innovative technology to the detriment of the average person.

Labor's mates over at the Australian Workers' Union are pushing for them to adopt the policy, with national secretary Daniel Walton claiming that automation is a "once in a lifetime disruptive economic event". Walton is of the mindset that the government must do something about this supposed social ill.

The solution the AWU is propagating is bound to fail. And while I'm sure Walton's heart is in the right place, the premise is flawed and the policy will prove costly.

Claiming that workers would be "punished" by increased automation and digitisation, Walton asserts that it is the government's role to ensure that these people can be "retooled and redeployed" into equivalent jobs and that the government must have necessary revenue to facilitate this.

The idea that workers will be punished by automation and digitisation is inherently flawed. I wonder if Walton uses a washing machine or a dishwasher? These white goods don't punish anyone who is fortunate enough to own them. In fact, they are the very invention that liberated women from the punitive gender-norms those in the Labor party are quick to condemn.

Should we introduce a tax on household machines, then? Labor and the AWU can't be happy that they have displaced women from their job in the home. And where should we stop with this tax on technology? Should we tax email for destroying jobs in the postal service? How about automated machines which remove miners from dangerous underground conditions?


A regressive policy of taxing innovation seems like the Labor Party shooting itself in the foot. So why would they support it?

Scaremongers would have you believe that automation will steal your job, and so it must be stopped, restricted and taxed.

This argument was addressed by Tim Worstall last year. He argued that "adaptation to shifting technology is not a dramatic rupture, but a constant process". While on the face of, it reports that up to a third of jobs will be lost to automation by 2030 seems confronting, this is a simplistic view.

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This article was first published by LibertyWorks.

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About the Author

Cian is a Research Analyst at the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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