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Fear of robots stealing 3 million French jobs sees radical plan to tax automation

Benoit Hamon has proposed a Universal Basic Income for all French adults to offset the rise of robots and automation in the workplace.

By Ellie Burns

A radical plan has been presented in France which would see an inclusive benefits system introduced to counter the rise of robots in the workplace.

Two of the seven candidates campaigning for the right to represent the Socialist Party in this year’s presidential elections are proposing a basic income of €750 to every French adult. The bill for this radical benefits plan would total a huge €700billion a year.

Candidate Benoit Hamon, in the first televised debate for the French left’s presidential primaries, stated that France could lose three million jobs to robots by 2020.

Mr Hamon said that as robots take a bigger role in the workforce, work will become

Robots and automation - Benoit Hamon

Benoit Hamon.

scarcer for people. The extra income would allow people to spend time with family, the needy and themselves, he argued. Supporting Mr Hamon’s basic income proposal was candidate Jean-Luc Bennahmias.

The huge cost of the benefits system would be sourced by a tax on goods and services produced by robots and automated machines – so, put simply, the machines putting people out of work would be the source of the extra income.

The fear of robots and automation stealing jobs is a concern France shares with the UK, with Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney recently warning that “up to 15 million of the current jobs in Britain could be automated over time.”

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Speaking at Liverpool John Moores University, the Governor likened the impending ‘machine age’ to the displacement of industries seen in past technological revolutions, warning that “every technological revolution mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods”.

“This was true of the eclipse of agriculture and cottage industry by the industrial revolution, the displacement of manufacturing by the service economy, and now the hollowing out of many of those middle-class services jobs through machine learning and global sourcing,” said Mr Carney in his ‘Spectre of Monetarism’ speech.

The UK has, it seems, no plans to introduce a basic income for the fallout of the fourth revolution, instead prioritising commissions, debates and regulation around the topic. It remains to be seen if Mr Hamon has a winning campaign pledge, with critics voicing concern that such a measure would see businesses exit France to do automated business elsewhere.

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