Digitalization and consequences for social systems: Will robots soon need an accountant?
Digital change is a challenge not only for individual industries and companies, but especially for the welfare. After all, the feared loss of jobs would reduce revenue from taxes. For this reason, entrepreneurs like Bill Gates are demanding the introduction of a robot tax.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, IFR, Germany is roughly in the middle field right now in terms of the ratio between robots and human workers in the manufacturing industry. Whereas there are 68 robots for every 10,000 human employees in China, the ratio is almost ten times higher at 631 in South Korea, while in Germany there are 309 industrial robots for every 10,000 colleagues made of flesh and blood.
This ratio will continue to intensify in favor of robots in the coming years, which is why it makes sense to intensify thinking about the social consequences. Meanwhile, Frank Appel, CEO at Deutsche Post AG, has argued for the introduction of a robot tax, as has Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Special value-added tax rate?
Last year, Appel suggested indirect taxation, specifically that the state could “forgo value-added tax on work done by humans” and only tax the work done by robots. After all, food is also taxed at a lower value-added tax rate. Bill Gates was even more self-assured. “Of course there will be taxes related to automation,” the software billionaire said in an interview with the online magazine Quartz. Gates went on to say that a robot that does the same work as a human should be taxed at a similar level. The revenue could then be invested in geriatric care, an area which certainly requires human empathy.
Yet this is where opinions differ strongly. Because robots are already being used in the fields of both medicine and care. In other words, smart robots are competing with humans even in areas where human closeness is important. According to a study by PwC, four out of ten Germans would go to a “robo-doctor”. In addition, two thirds of those surveyed believe that robots and artificial intelligent will improve medical care overall.
As a matter of fact, a wide range of expert groups are expecting a significant shift from human workplaces to robot jobs. This development will not be able to be stopped by a tax – and those responsible are not in agreement on whether or not this makes sense anyway. EU Digital Commissioner, Andrus Ansip, does not approve of the idea of such a levy. The reason behind taxes is to influence a process, by encouraging companies to take more account of the environment for instance. Ansip feels that a robot tax could endanger further technological developments: “Why should we stop progress?”
New digital jobs
The idea of taxing non-human work is not new in any case. It used to be called “machine tax”, but it did not take hold. In addition, it is necessary to consider digitization as a whole and not only to see which work robots take from us, thus replacing human taxpayers. The Cologne-based change expert Stephan Penning believes that not all jobs can be replaced one to one within the context of technological progress, and also recalled the recent past in an interview with Manager magazine, when he said, “New jobs will be created as well, ones we cannot even imagine at the moment. Would you have imagined just ten years ago that professions such as social media manager or SEO specialist could exist?”
Every second job affected
The McKinsey Global Institute takes a more relaxed view of the long-term development too. True, automation, robots and artificial intelligence affect every second job, but the institute compares the transformation of the working environment with the effects of progressing from an agricultural to an industrial society. There were great shifts on the employment market during this phase, of course, but “in the long term this change led to an increase in jobs”. Thus it seems there will be no need for the profession “accountant for robots” in the foreseeable future.
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: willyam – Adobe Stock