I've read up on the proposal by Benoît Hamon, and it's not so much a tax on robots as it is a tax on corporations that use robots. I think the idea is that by using robots, the corporations avoid paying their portion of the worker's income tax, and therefore don't contribute as much to social welfare programs run by the government. His website
is in French and despite some improvement in the past few years, my French isn't up to translating it, but I found a translation of the idea on Motherboard
When a worker is replaced by a machine, the wealth created benefits the shareholders. I propose, therefore, to tax this wealth—by applying the social contributions on the whole of the added value and not just on the work.
It seems to me that he's saying, OK, go ahead and use robots, but you will still pay the taxes you would have paid if you were employing workers.
In the Motherboard
article I also read about a proposal by the EU to tax robots as "electronic persons."
This is closer to what Davin
said, and he has a good point regarding what might lie along that road. In the US, the Supreme Court has said that corporations--that have been considered "persons" under the law for some time--have rights, including religious rights. If robots are ever considered "persons" under the law, then it would seem inevitable that they would also have rights. (I see that while I was typing this the conversation has covered some of this ground, but I'll leave it in anyway.)
Anyway, increasing automation and the resulting decline in employment opportunities for human beings will have to be addressed sooner or later. In light of that, I think that Hamon's idea isn't completely outlandish.
Another article I came across: "Why A French Socialist’s Case for Taxing Robots Is Better Than Bill Gates’ Idea" | In These Times
Now that he won’t be labor secretary, Andy Puzder will be free to keep running his fast food empire the way he likes: with low wages, rampant wage theft and sky-high rates of sexual harassment. Because humans do pesky things like complain and demand decent hours and collective bargaining rights, Puzder has toyed with the idea of replacing them with robots. As he’s put it, machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”
Bill Gates and French Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon would appear to have similar ideas for how to curb the impact of the kind of profit-hungry automation Puzder dreams of: Tax the bejeezus out of companies that use robots. But like other proposals with support from opposite sides of the political spectrum—like the idea of a universal basic income—the devil is in the details.
[Continues . . .]