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There's been suggestions recently that with robots and AI set to take most everybody's jobs away we should perhaps tax the robots. So I thought I'd look into how that might play out by imagining how it might effect a business and the tax it generates. Thus...

Effect of robots on a business - chart 2.

There we have a business with at first 10 humans and no robots, then 5 humans and 5 robots and finally 1 human and 9 robots. A robot is assumed to cost half what a human costs and does the same amount of work. There's a flat tax of 20% applied to both the humans' payroll and the business's profits. The robots aren't taxed, as this is to show what happens when a business can cut its labour costs, all else being equal.

As you'd expect, the business makes more profit with replacing the humans, but the total tax generated by the business, (meaning the tax from the payroll plus the business profits), decreases. So not only has the number of the unemployed increased, but the state has less revenue to deal with the increase. However, it's not too bad though, as while the business has almost doubled its profit when there's just one human left, the tax take has dropped a bit less than a third.

I've seen reports though that robots on average are much more efficient than this, so here's where they're just 1/5th the cost of a human...

Effect of robots on a business - chart 2.

From that you'll see the more efficient robots have now more than doubled the business's profits and the tax take has only dropped about an eight.

Either way though, people are out of a job and less tax is collected. If it's expected to be short term though, then a progressive tax could make up for the loss in the tax take, going by these examples. (And progressive taxes are common, such as in the US, UK, etc.) Which would mean business as usual with regard to helping people though periods of unemployment.

But if robots are going to create a higher average level of unemployment, more tax to pay for that will have to be collected. A higher progressive tax could be used, but perhaps a better way would be to factor into the business tax the amount of payroll the business pays. Meaning a large payroll relative to the business's profit would reduce the percentage of tax it pays. A simple though probably not very good example...

Effect of robots on a business - chart 3.

In that, if the payroll is greater than the business's profits then the business's tax rate is reduced, um, thus...

profit/100*(tax-rate/(payroll/profit))

So if the payroll was twice the profit, the profit would be taxed at half the tax-rate. (10% instead of 20% in these examples.)

As the payroll is only higher than the profit in these examples when there's no robots, that's the only example this change effects, the total tax dropping and the business profits rising. This does produce a more even spread in the total tax across the three examples though, but a rise in the tax-rate would be required to compensate for the overall drop in the country's tax-take. (And a rise in workers' pay to compensate for the tax-rate rise...)

Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you want to tax the robots, (meaning gains in efficiency that result in less people being needed to run a business), taking into account how much a business pays its employees when deciding its tax-rate would seem a good way to do it.

If you want to have a play with this, the following will possibly load into your spreadsheet after you copy and paste it as a text file...

"Tax Rate",,,20
"Gross Income",,,1000000
"General Expenses",,,400000
"Robots",0,20000,=B4*C4
"Total Expenses",,,=D3+D4
"Payroll",10,40000,=B6*C6
"Business Profit",,,=D2-D5-D6
"Payroll Tax",,,=D6/100*D1
"Payroll After Tax",,,=D6-D8
"Business Tax",,,=D7/100*D1
"Total Tax",,,=D8+D10
"Bus. After Tax Profit",,,=D7-D10

And this is the alternative Business Tax...

=E38/100*MIN(E32/(E37/E38);E32)

Note that what you're trying to achieve is to both increase the tax rate as the payroll decreases while also increasing the business's profits. Efficiencies are good, so they should increase profits.

(The things I waste my time on... :)

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August 2017

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