Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and a strong technology advocate, and Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada and a former high school teacher, do not seem to have that much in common. Generally, businessmen produce wealth and politicians redistribute it. But Bill Gates and Justin Trudeau share a bond: both are crusaders against inequality of income and wealth (rather paradoxically for the world’s richest man and a very well-off prime minister).
In a recent interview by Quartz Media, Bill Gates suggested that we should slow down the trend of robots substituting workers and make companies using robots pay taxes for every employee replaced. He argued that governments should use the money from these taxes to provide training or to subsidize new jobs in elder care and education for children with special needs.
In Gates’ view, workers losing jobs due to the advancement in robotics face inequity that business and the markets cannot deal with—government action is needed. In the interview, he said: “Well, business can’t [do it.] If you want to do [something about] inequity, a lot of the excess labor is going to need to go help the people who have lower incomes. And so it means that you can amp up social services for old people and handicapped people and you can take the education sector and put more labor in there … But the inequity-solving part, absolutely government’s got a big role to play there. The nice thing about taxation though, is that it really separates the issue: OK, so that gives you the resources, now how do you want to deploy it?”
Many would think it unfathomable that someone who helped create the world’s largest software company—which is currently investing heavily in artificial-intelligence technology—is advocating holding back technology that helps save us from physical labor, of warehouse work, truck driving, room cleaning, and a multitude of other mundane work. However, Gates’ argument for holding back innovation and technological progress becomes easy to explain when one understands the moral philosophy that motivates it: altruism, the code that mandates putting others’ needs always above one’s own.
According to altruism, those who are well off, such as producers using robots to create more wealth, should sacrifice their profits—and therefore innovations that not only spare us from physical labor but also provide assistance and independence to the physically disabled and the elderly. As per altruism, the producers should sacrifice their profits for the sake of the displaced workers, because they are the neediest. Everyone should put the needs of the least advantaged ahead of their own. And sacrifices are not required just from the shareholders of companies creating and using robots, but also from those who would benefit from assistive robots or from those who would enjoy job opportunities outside of physical labor the increased wealth would create.
Bill Gates’ altruism-motivated pronouncement for robot tax to alleviate inequity legitimizes the crusade against inequality and emboldens politicians like prime minister Trudeau to attack business through increasing income and wealth redistribution schemes (such as higher corporate income taxes, carbon taxes—and now, perhaps robot taxes). Last week, in an invited speech at the Hamburg city hall, Trudeau lectured European politicians and business leaders about evil of companies “posting record profits on the backs of workers consistently refused full-time work—and the job security that comes with it.”
Guided by the moral code of altruism, both Gates and Trudeau have it wrong: inequality is not an obstacle to prosperity. On the contrary, inequality makes prosperity possible. As Don Watkins and Yaron Brook convincingly demonstrate in their book, “America’s misguided fight against income inequality: Equal is unfair,” forced income equality makes everyone poorer, and liberating the producers and celebrating the successful make everyone more prosperous. Freedom to innovate and create wealth would lead to more new opportunities and eliminate unemployment, making robotics-caused job losses only temporary, as Lawrence Solomon explains in a recent column.
It is one thing for Bill Gates to advocate the evil idea of sacrificing producers and all the rest of us who benefit from the products and wealth they create. For politicians like prime minister Trudeau, who have the power to actually sacrifice the producers through government force, such as bans, taxes and other wealth distribution schemes, it is doubly immoral.