Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't afraid of the rise of robots, but she agrees with Bill Gates that they should be taxed for taking jobs

  • Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has an unusual take on the risk of robots taking over US jobs.
  • The conventional wisdom is that business owners who replace human workers with robots will accumulate wealth — something a left-leaning politician would usually be opposed to.
  • Speaking at SXSW, Ocasio-Cortez said people should be "excited" for automation because it would leave people free to be more creative.
  • She also thinks robots, or more precisely robot owners, should be taxed for replacing jobs.

Speaking at SXSW over the weekend, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voiced her view that people shouldn't be worried that automation might be about to wipe out their jobs.

It's an unusual take, because the perceived wisdom is that rising automation will adversely impact both blue- and white-collar jobs, laying waste to factory workers, lawyers, and anyone else who does repetitive work that could easily be automated.

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Top 15 tax deductions for the self-employed
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Top 15 tax deductions for the self-employed
1. Self-Employment Tax Deduction – Unfortunately, in the eyes of the IRS, you are both an employer and an employee. Thus, you are responsible for both the employer and employee tax contributions to Medicare and Social Security. Fortunately, 50% of your employment tax payment (effectively your "employer" contribution) is tax deductible.
2. Qualified Business Income (QBI) Deduction – To level the playing field of corporate tax breaks, self-employed taxpayers now have a new deduction that assists small businesses with pass-through income (where individual tax rates apply). Sole proprietorships, partnerships, or S corporations may deduct up to 20% of QBI – although limitations can apply and some term definitions in the code are unclear. This deduction took effect from January 1, 2018, so you will be able to claim it for the first time on your return you file this spring for the 2018 tax year.
3. Home Office Deduction – You can still deduct a home office as long as it is your principal place of business, used on a regular basis, and used for nothing other than business. IRS Publication 587, "Business Use of Your Home" gives details on eligibility and how to calculate your deduction.
4. Retirement Plans – If you use a 401(k), a simplified employee pension (SEP), or some other suitable qualified retirement plan, you can deduct your contributions to that plan. Not only will you score valuable tax deductions, you will also save responsibly for retirement by growing a tax-deferred nest egg. The IRS provides details on calculating contributions and deductions based on your choice of plan.
5. Office Supplies – As long as office supplies (non-capital expenses) are purchased and used only for your business, they may be considered as standard business expenses and deducted.

6. Depreciation – Capital expenses (that have a lifespan greater than one year) may also be deducted through depreciation if they are used to generate income for your business. Depreciation may apply to equipment used for both home and business. For details, see IRS Publication 946, "How to Depreciate Property".

The new tax law raised the depreciation limit to $1 million and the depreciation rate from 50% to 100% on equipment bought and placed into service after September 27, 2017.

7. Educational Expenses – Do you attend seminars related to your business? Do you take continuing education classes or maintain subscriptions and dues in relevant professional societies? If these expenses relate to your profession, they may be deducted.

8. Health Insurance – Health insurance is frequently challenging for the self-employed. You may be able to reduce the burden by deducting premiums for you and your family if you meet the criteria outlined in IRS Publication 535, "Business Expenses."

Note: The new tax law eliminates the penalty for not having health insurance (aka the "Obamacare mandate") from 2019 onwards – but health insurance was still required for tax year 2018, for which you are filing a return this season. Although there is no penalty going forward, we don't recommend forgoing healthcare insurance as a cost-savings exercise.

9. Communication Expenses – Expenses such as Internet and data services may be deducted in whatever proportion relates to your business. Basic local telephone services are not deductible for the first phone line in your home, even if you have a home office. Long-distance business calls on that line are deductible, as are the costs of a separate line used exclusively for business.
10. Other Travel Expenses – Some business travel expenses may be 100% deductible if they occur away from your tax home and are considered "ordinary and necessary". The new tax law has eliminated certain entertainment expenses, but the 50% deduction on food and beverage expenses still applies.
11. Promotional Expenses – Business-related advertising costs from full media promotions all the way down to simple business cards are deductible. Promotional gifts may be deductible as long as they are branded to your business.
12. Bank Fees – If you are careful to separate your business bank account from your personal accounts and maintain a clear line between transactions, you may be able to deduct some bank fees related to your business account.
13. Business-Related Interest Charges – Similarly to bank fees, interest on credit card balances and loans that are strictly related to your business may be deducted. Be sure to keep excellent and thorough records to prove the distinction. The new tax law creates limitations on interest deductions for larger businesses (gross receipts greater than $25 million), but, as a small business, your interest deductions should be unaffected.
14. Mileage – Do you use your car for business purposes? You can either take a standard mileage deduction (54.5 cents per business-related mile for tax year 2018 and 58 cents per mile for 2019) or take a deduction based on actual costs such as fuel, maintenance, licensing, and depreciation. Some public transportation expenses may also be deducted. Be sure to keep the personal and business-related mileage expenses separate, retain all necessary receipts, and keep good records as proof of business use. (See the pattern here?)
15. Contract Labor Costs – You may employ other independent contractors on a contract basis to provide services – for example, contracting with a web developer to create your website. Those expenses are generally deductible. You may also deduct the cost of tax preparation services used for the business-related part of your return.
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The thinking goes that these people will either need swift retraining or will need to survive on government handouts. Meanwhile, the moguls who actually own the robots will accumulate wealth by laying off expensive human workers in favour of cheap robot workers. Think Jeff Bezos — already the world's richest man — running an incredibly profitable Amazon, which is already being heavily automated by robots.

Read more:Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leaned into her socialist image at SXSW, saying 'capitalism is irredeemable'

A left-leaning politician like Ocasio-Cortez should, conventionally, be sceptical about the rise of AI. Indeed, one would-be Democratic presidential candidate, businessman Andrew Yang, has issued doomsday predictions that AI will "destabilise society."

But Ocasio-Cortez, leaning into her socialist credentials, wants to retool our entire way of thinking about work.

"We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should not feel nervous about the tollbooth collector not having to collect tolls. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited about it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die," she said.

"We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in. Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage."

42 PHOTOS
States where Americans pay the highest in state income taxes
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States where Americans pay the highest in state income taxes

California

State income tax: 1% to 13.3% 

Maine

State income tax: 5.8% to 10.15%

Oregon

State income tax: 5% to 9.9%

Minnesota

State income tax: 5.35% to 9.85%

Iowa

State income tax: 0.36% to 8.98%

New Jersey

State income tax: 1.4% to 8.97%

Vermont

State income tax: 3.55% to 8.95%

Washington, DC

State income tax: 4% to 8.95%

New York

State income tax: 4% to 8.82%

Hawaii

State income tax: 1.4% to 8.25%

Wisconsin

State income tax: 4% to 7.65%

Idaho

State income tax: 1.6% to 7.4%

South Carolina

State income tax: 0% to 7%

Connecticut

State income tax: 3% to 6.99%

Arkansas

State income tax: 0.9% to 6.9%

Montana

State income tax: 1% to 6.9%

Nebraska

State income tax: 2.46% to 6.84%

Delaware

State income tax: 2.2% to 6.6%

West Virginia

State income tax: 3% to 6.5%

Georgia

State income tax: 1% to 6%

Kentucky

State income tax: 2% to 6%

Louisiana

State income tax: 2% to 6%

Missouri

State income tax: 1.5% to 6%

Rhode Island

State income tax: 3.75% to 5.99%

Maryland

State income tax: 2% to 5.75%

North Carolina

State income tax: 5.75%

Virginia

State income tax: 2% to 5.75%

Oklahoma

State income tax: 0.5% to 5.25%

Massachusetts

State income tax: 5.1%

Alabama

State income tax: 2% to 5%

Mississippi

State income tax: 3% to 5%

Utah

State income tax: 5%

Ohio

State income tax: 0.495% to 4.997%

New Mexico

State income tax: 1.7% to 4.9%

Colorado

State income tax: 4.63%

Kansas

State income tax: 2.7% to 4.6%

Arizona

State income tax: 2.59% to 4.54%

Michigan

State income tax: 4.25%

Illinois

State income tax: 3.75%

Indiana

State income tax: 3.3%

Pennsylvania

State income tax: 3.07%

North Dakota

State income tax: 1.1% to 2.9%

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Wealthy robot owners, she added, could be taxed by as much as 90%. Ocasio-Cortez cited comments by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who suggested that robots should pay the taxes for the people they replace, although he didn't name a precise figure. "What [Gates is] really talking about is taxing corporations at 90%, but it’s easier to say: 'Tax a robot,'" Ocasio-Cortez said.

It would require a total reimagining of work and leisure time. But Ocasio-Cortez isn't the only person to argue that automated labour would free humans up to do whatever they like — normally something worthwhile or creative.

Toby Walsh, a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales, has argued it's impossible to know how many jobs might be adversely impacted by AI. He disputed one 2013 study from Oxford stated that 47% of all US employment was at risk.

He wrote in The Guardian: "The AI revolution then will be about rediscovering the things that make us human. Technically, machines will have become amazing artists. They will be able to write music to rival Bach, and paintings to match Picasso. But we’ll still prefer works produced by human artists.

"These works will speak to the human experience. We will appreciate a human artist who speaks about love because we have this in common. No machine will truly experience love like we do.

You can watch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's SXSW session here:
 

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