Zero Economic Value Humans?

10 Wake Forest J. of Law & Pol'y 129-194 (2020)

66 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2019 Last revised: 14 Jul 2020


The decades ahead will bring forth a convergence of increasingly capable technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, that will fundamentally reshape and transform work environments by replacing average humans with ordinary job skills. Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, perceptively identifies this impending paradigm shift and argues these technologies will challenge policymakers to “think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.”

This challenge, however, extends beyond the political realm, as emerging technologies will change our human existence. For example, Pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home echoed similar concerns to Schwab. His Holiness warns that technological progress that replaces the need for human-performed work would be “detrimental to humanity” because work provides dignity through the development of talents and community relationships.

As technology disintermediates humans from market transactions, tax policies should rethink the purpose of paid work and focus on furthering vocational opportunities outside the traditional employment context. While innovators, such as Bill Gates, have suggested imposing a “robot tax” to fund displaced-worker retraining programs, the implementation of new tax policies alone will not foster and protect worker dignity. A solution must be crafted to provide humans with meaningful work opportunities. Policymakers will need to think strategically and balance individual economic interests with community concerns about income inequality. To mitigate the disruptive nature of the fourth industrial revolution, forward-focused tax policies should be designed and then refined to promote meaningful work and protect human dignity.

Keywords: tax, tax policy, artificial intelligence, AI, robot, robotics, technological unemployment, disintermediation, digital, technology, convergence, future of work, universal basic income, UBI, negative income tax, NIT, guaranteed income

JEL Classification: K34, K31, K36

Suggested Citation

Escajeda, Hilary G., Zero Economic Value Humans?. 10 Wake Forest J. of Law & Pol'y 129-194 (2020), Available at SSRN: or

Hilary G. Escajeda (Contact Author)

Graduate Tax Program ( email )

2201 S. Gaylord St
Denver, CO 80208-2685
United States

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