New York City Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio on Monday tweeted his support for a bizarre plan to tax robots and create a federal department to oversee automation.
In response to an article from Wired.com titled, "Why American Workers Need to be Protected from Automation," de Blasio tweeted, "As President, I would issue a robot tax for corporations displacing humans, and create a federal agency to oversee automation."
In a more detailed statement released on his website, de Blasio claimed that "current automation practices are an existential threat to our nation's workforce that destroys good jobs and directs more and more of the profits only to the wealthiest Americans."
In response to this alleged threat, de Blasio proposes to create a new federal agency, the Federal Automation and Worker Protection Agency (FAWPA), which would have "broad authority to regulate the widespread growth of automation and oversee its impact on working people."
Specifically, the plan states, "Any major company seeking to increase automated operations would be required to seek a permit from FAWPA with approval conditioned on the company's plans to protect existing workers, either by ensuring they receive new jobs with similar pay or severance packages that reflect their tenure of service to the company."
In true de Blasio fashion, the plan would also feature numerous tax increases, including the end of the corporate accelerated depreciation tax break, and the institution of an actual "robot tax," which de Blasio claims would require corporations who eliminate jobs via automation to "pay the equivalent of five years worth of payroll taxes up front for each worker whose job is eliminated."
Under de Blasio's plan, the revenues from these taxes would "facilitate the creation of new, high-paying union jobs in crucial fields such as green energy, health care, and early childhood education. Workers displaced by automation would go to the front of the line for these new positions at comparable salaries to their previous jobs."
The plan does not specify how one lump sum payment of five years' worth of payroll tax would create a new, sustainable, "high-paying union job" for that worker, but presumably, some unicorn dust is involved somehow. For reference, the current amount of payroll tax collected for a worker who makes $100,000 in salary is $6,200 per year, which means that five years' worth of that tax would amount to $31,000 — or less than one third of what it would cost to employ that worker for a single year. So, de Blasio's plan would provide enough revenue to give a displaced worker a job for a whopping three months.
Of course, de Blasio's plan also does not address or mention the fact that human labor has been increasingly automated at an accelerating pace since the dawn of the industrial age, which has resulted in the elimination of entire fields of labor — like elevator operators, gas station attendants (except in New Jersey, where a bizarre law has kept this anachronistic and completely unnecessary menial job alive) and the like.
And yet, in spite of the "threat" of automation, unemployment continues to trend steadily downward, to its current historically low levels, which suggests that the market is doing a fine job of replacing jobs that can be performed by automated processes with jobs that are required in the new economy without the creation of an intrusive federal agency or the imposition of new taxes that will be used to line the pockets of unions, make American corporations less efficient and competitive, and keep people trapped doing manual labor that is completely unnecessary.