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The Robot Tax And Basic Income

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In my work to prepare for the Future of Labor conversation we had at NewCo Shift a few weeks ago, I talked to a number of experts who are studying job losses due to automation and thinking about what might be done about it. Two ideas that came up a number of times were the “robot tax” and the “basic income.”

The ideas are complementary and one might fund the other.

At its simplest, a “robot tax” is a tax on companies that choose to use automation to replace human jobs. There are obviously many variants of this idea and to my knowledge, no country or other taxing authority has implemented a robot tax yet.

A “basic income” is the idea that everyone receives enough money from the government to pay for their basic needs; housing, food, clothing so that as automation puts people out of work we don’t see millions of people being put out on the street.

What is interesting about these two ideas is that some of the biggest proponents of them are technology entrepreneurs and investors, the very people who are building and funding the automation technologies that have the potential to displace many jobs.

It is certainly true that we don’t know that automation will lead to a jobs crisis. Other technological revolutions like farming and factories produced as many new jobs as they wiped out and incomes increased from these changes. Automation could well do the same.

But smart people are wondering, both privately and publicly, if this time may be different. And so ideas like the robot tax and the basic income are getting traction and are being studied and promoted.

The latest proponent of a robot tax is Bill Gates who said this about it:

You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed. That’s because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it’s important to be able to manage that displacement. You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once.

There is a lot of economic surplus that could come from automation. Let’s look at ride sharing. Today I pay something like $15 to go from my home to my office in the morning. Something like $10 of that ride is going to the driver. If the ride is automated, either the price goes to $5, saving me $10 a ride which then is surplus to me, or the profit that Uber is making goes up significantly, which is surplus to them. Some of both is likely to happen. This surplus could be taxed, either at the company level or the individual level, so that the cost of the ride doesn’t go down nearly as much and the driver can continue to compete with the robot or the driver can collect some basic income, funded by the robot tax, while they find a new line of work.

At least that is the idea.

I would not characterize myself as a proponent of a robot tax or a basic income. But I find these ideas interesting and worth studying, debating, discussing, and testing at a small scale to understand their impacts. We should absolutely be doing that.

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gglockner
4 days ago
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Terrible ideas. If the US adopts a robot tax, factories will move overseas. As for basic income, imagine the outrage when people spend the money for things many would consider abusive - processed foods, jumbo TVs, etc.
Bellevue, WA
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Aldi Spending $1.6B To Upgrade Stores To Be More Whole Foods-Esque

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Millennials are already apparently flocking to Aldi over Whole Foods’ new, hipper version of its typical stores in favor of lower price points, but now these customers won’t have to forego the more expensive chain’s aesthetic: Aldi plans to spend $1.6 billion to revamp the layout of its stores in order to compete with chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts. 

Aldi on Wednesday announced [PDF] the upgrade plan for its 1,300 stores over the next three years.

So far, about 300 locations have already been revamped with sleeker refrigerators doors and windows that bring in more natural light. Other improvements include widening the first aisle, expanding the front of the store, and raising ceilings.

With the upgrades, the chain says it will be able to add more products to its lineup, including expanding its organic produce section, fresh meat offerings, and alcohol departments.

“The new ALDI store look delivers on its customers’ desire for a modern and convenient shopping experience with a focus on fresh items, including more robust produce, dairy and bakery sections,” the company said.

Business Insider reports that the new stores shares several similar features with Whole Foods’ new 365 stores, with their softer, natural light, and wider aisles.

For example, both stores feature refrigerator-lined perimeters and minimal signage. Additionally, the middle of the stores house the store’s produce, and neither chain offers a deli, but instead prepackaged cheeses and meats.

The remodel places Aldi in a position to potentially whisk away customers from Whole Foods and corporate cousin Trader Joe’s.

In fact, by the time the remodels are complete in 2020, Aldi tells Bloomberg that it expects to increase the number of shoppers from 40 million to 60 million each month.

It won’t just be the company’s stores that are getting a facelift. Aldi notes in a statement that it will also improve products, removing added MSG, certified synthetic colors and partially hydrogenated oils from all Aldi exclusive brand foods.

In addition to revamping its current stores, Aldi said on Wednesday that it plans to continue moving forward with an accelerated growth plan of opening 650 new stores. By the end of 2018, the company expects to operate 2,000 stores in the U.S.

As part of these plans, the company has opened dozens of stores in California, pitting it directly against competitor Whole Foods, Bloomberg notes.





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gglockner
16 days ago
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This story sounds wrong: Aldi already owns Trader Joe's so why would it compete with itself?
Bellevue, WA
cbenard
16 days ago
That's not true: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/12/02/aldi_grocery_store_best_in_america_related_to_trader_joe_s.html
gglockner
16 days ago
Oh snap, the whole Aldi Sud/Nord issue. I stand corrected.
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Vizio To Pay $2.2 Million For Watching TV Watchers Without Telling Them

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There is a new truism for our era: If something can connect to the internet, it collects data. That’s true for everything from wearable fitness trackers to “smart” washing machines. But one TV company went farther than most, in collecting, aggregating, and selling your data, and now it’s in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission.

There’s big money to be had in smart, internet-connected TV sets. The companies who manufacture and sell them to you don’t just sell hardware; they also sell access to you to advertisers, and sell aggregated viewer data to giant data brokerages.

But in 2015, we learned that Vizio was going above and beyond even the standard personal data collection most smart TVs do. And worse, as far as the FTC is concerned: Vizio didn’t disclose what it was doing to 11 million consumers who bought their TVs.

So the FTC sued Vizio [PDF] in federal court, alleging that since 2014, Vizio had been manufacturing TV sets that continuously tracked what consumers were watching and that the company collected that data through software that was enabled by default.

But it wasn’t just new TVs: The complaint claims that Vizio also remotely patched several older models of TV that didn’t ship with the automatic content recognition (ACR) software so that they, too, could report back on what you were watching.

That software, the FTC continues, “captures information about a selection of pixels on the screen,” then sends it back to Vizio where the data is “uniquely matched to a database of publicly available television, movie, and commercial content.”

That applies across basically every kind of content delivery you can think of — broadcast, cable, satellite, external streaming devices, DVD players, and internet service providers. It’s up to 100 billion data points each day from more than 10 million televisions, and Vizio “stores that data indefinitely,” the complaint continues.

But wait, there’s more! The complaint continues: Vizio’s ACR software “also periodically collects other information about the television, including IP address, wired and wireless MAC addresses, WiFi signal strength, nearby WiFi access points, and other items.”

Now if you put that together with data acquired from third parties — as Vizio did, the complaint continues — and you’ve suddenly got an incredibly robust picture of who is watching what, where, and when.

That level of granular data collection and matching is not itself unlawful… but doing it without notifying consumers or getting their consent is, as is holding on to the data indefinitely.

And so now, under the terms of the settlement [PDF], Vizio will be paying fines to both the FTC and the state of New Jersey for these shenanigans. The money breaks down as $1.5 million to the FTC and $700,000 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, plus some extra for attorneys fees.

Vizio also has to update its disclosures, “separate and apart” from its privacy policy and terms of use, to “prominently” share what types of viewing data will be collected, used, and shared; with whom; and to what purpose. Data collected previous to March 1, 2016, also has to be destroyed, unless the consumer consents for Vizio to keep it.

[via the Federal Trade Commission]





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gglockner
18 days ago
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Why I don't enable the 'smart' features on my TV.
Bellevue, WA
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Pizza Hut Worker & Company Head Trade Places: She Gets Super Bowl Tickets, He Does Her Job

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In a classic job switcheroo, this year a Pizza Hut employee will enjoy the boss’s Super Bowl seats, while the company president covers her usual restaurant duties.

Pizza Hut President Artie Starrs says he felt guilty at least year’s championship game, having fun with his fellow Yum Brands pals while 150,000 workers were churning out pizza after pizza on the company’s busiest day of the year.

“I decided that next year we need to have one of our employees in the field come sit in these seats and have this experience,” Starrs told CBS MoneyWatch.

The company held a six-month contest where, at the end, the entrants with the best customer satisfaction scores had their names put into a bowl. Starrs drew a veteran employee of 20 years who oversees around a half-dozen restaurants in Alabama.

She and her husband will be attending the game, while Starrs will work in her stores, doing whatever needs to get done — folding boxes, making pizzas, and yes, even delivering pizzas. He says he can hold his own, but that managers are better at making pizzas simply because they do it more often.

“I think this is something that we are going to be doing going forward. It’s a new tradition,” Starrs said.





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gglockner
21 days ago
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A feel-good story.
Bellevue, WA
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1 public comment
Covarr
21 days ago
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I admire this.
Moses Lake, WA

Jackasss of the Week: Barron’s

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This is an actual headline at Barron’s today: “Apple: Investors Are Happy, But What About Consumers?”.

They sell 78 million iPhones in a quarter and Barron’s thinks it’s a legitimate question whether they’re making customers happy?

The real test comes later this year, when Apple releases its next iPhone, marking the smartphone’s 10th anniversary. As the stock makes gains, investor expectations for the debut head ever higher.

The “real test” is always the next iPhone with these people. Always.

Innovation, perhaps. But the new Macbooks [sic] have faced more than their usual share of criticism, including a rather lukewarm review from Consumer Reports about the battery life of the devices. Apple has since provided a software update that Consumer Reports says fixed the issue.

There are many reasonable complaints about the new MacBook Pros. But they’re nuanced. The only reason to drudge up the Consumer Reports saga — which is about a Safari developer debug mode bug that even Consumer Reports admits has been fixed by Apple — is to create the illusion of false drama.

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gglockner
23 days ago
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It's all about the pageviews.
Bellevue, WA
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American Airlines Ditching Seatback TVs In Some New Planes. Will They Be Missed?

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Not that long ago, “in-flight entertainment” consisted of having to crane your neck to watch a bland, inoffensive movie on shared screens — and that’s assuming your headphones worked. Then individual seat-back screens expanded viewing options; more movies, shows, and games to choose from. But with nearly everyone now carrying some sort of personal entertainment device, are these small screens necessary? American Airlines doesn’t think so.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that new American Airlines planes expected to go into service this year will come sans seatback TVs.

The four new Boeing 737 MAX planes, which will be used for domestic travel, are a sign of the times for airlines.

American said in a memo to employees that nearly 90% of its passengers bring a device or screen with them when they fly.

Unlike seatback sets, which could be temperamental and sometimes confusing to new users, most of us know how to operate our phones and tablets.

“It makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options rather than installing seatback monitors that will be obsolete within a few years,” the airline said.

The change likely won’t have much of an impact on passengers, as the airline will continue to offer the ability to stream content from personal devices.

Passengers with a phone, tablet, or laptop have the ability to “watch free movies and TV shows from its on-board library and live television channels without purchasing an in-flight Internet connection.”

Travelers who do purchase American’s in-flight WiFi will also have access to content from Amazon and Netflix. Although, with more people using WiFi to connect their personal devices, the speed at which passengers can actual stream shows and movies could suffer.

Despite the change, American isn’t completely doing away with seatback monitors: the company says that it will also take possession of dozens of Boeing 737 and Airbus A321 planes that will have monitors. It’s unclear where those planes will fly.

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gglockner
30 days ago
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Alaska has a better system: they rent players, which can be repaired easily after the flight. Plus, you can stream entertainment to your own device.
Bellevue, WA
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