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Taxation of robots – what would have been the view of Smith and Marx on it?

Maik Huettinger (Department of Economics, ISM University of Management and Economics, Vilnius, Lithuania)
Jonathan Andrew Boyd (Department of Economics, ISM University of Management and Economics, Vilnius, Lithuania)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 3 December 2019

Issue publication date: 14 January 2020

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to approach the issue of taxation of robotic process automation (RPA) through an interpretive lens provided by both Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Both scholars have affected the understanding and attitudes of generations of economists, and their ideas have considerable influenced modern economic policy. It will be argued that Smith and Marx have much to offer to help contemporary economists understand the taxation of RPA, and their writings on machines, automation, and their impact on the human labor force will be discussed from their primary texts.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper interprets the works of Marx and Smith in relation to contemporary debates on automation, particularly, proposals to tax technological innovations to offset the social costs of automation’s displacement effects.

Findings

In the case of Adam Smith, there is not enough evidence to suggest that he would support a specific taxation of RPA; however, he very well might agree with a modest taxation of capital goods. Marx would very likely support a taxation in the short-run, however, would be inclined to caution that the ownership of robots should in the long run be transferred to society.

Originality/value

This paper uses primary texts from the discipline of history of economic thought to spark a discussion about compensating the externalities of technological innovation.

Keywords

Citation

Huettinger, M. and Boyd, J.A. (2020), "Taxation of robots – what would have been the view of Smith and Marx on it?", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 47 No. 1, pp. 41-53. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSE-11-2018-0603

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited