In an interview with Quartz in February, Bill Gates proposed a radical idea that rattled the internet: If robots are taking human jobs, why not tax them the same way? Now, Jane Kim, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, wants to put this idea to the test.
On Wednesday (Aug. 23), Kim launched a campaign called the Jobs of the Future Fund to ask California’s legislature to study a statewide tax on companies that displace workers with automation. A portion of the tax would “be used for education, retraining and targeted investments in new industries” and “help smooth the transition for our workers, providing them with better opportunities,” says the campaign’s “about” page. It could even help finance a universal basic income.
In a city where technology-generated wealth and homelessness are rampant side-by-side, Kim worries that automation will only deepen income inequality and exacerbate unemployment. “Some estimates have projected that as many as 50% of current American jobs will be lost through the transition to robot, algorithms or other forms of automation,” reads her campaign site. Since reading Gates’ interview, Kim has interviewed tech leaders, labor groups, and other stakeholders across her city and state to figure out how a tax could counteract those risks.
Her efforts aren’t popular with everyone. Steve Cousins, the founder and CEO of autonomous robotics company Savioke, called the tax an “innovation penalty” in a TechCrunch editorial. “Taxing robotics is as intelligent as taxing software,” Ulrich Spiesshofer, the CEO of multinational robotics and automation corporation ABB Group, criticized on CNBC.
But Kim is committed to starting the conversation. With the launch of her campaign, she will be holding events across California to hear people’s thoughts on how to prepare for an automated future. “It’s important that we’re the city that looks at this issue, because we’re at the center of the technological revolution,” Kim told Business Insider in May. “And why not? DC’s not thinking about it.”