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Robots, Trade, and Luddism: A Sufficient Statistic Approach to Optimal Technology Regulation

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  • Arnaud Costinot
  • Iván Werning

Abstract

Technological change, from the advent of robots to expanded trade opportunities, tends to create winners and losers. How should government policy respond? And how should the overall welfare impact of technological change on society be valued? We provide a general theory of optimal technology regulation in a second best world, with rich heterogeneity across households, linear taxes on the subset of firms affected by technological change, and a nonlinear tax on labor income. Our first results consist of three optimal tax formulas, with minimal structural assumptions, involving sufficient statistics that can be implemented using evidence on the distributional impact of new technologies, such as robots and trade. Our second result is a comparative static exercise illustrating that while distributional concerns create a rationale for non-zero taxes on robots and trade, the magnitude of these taxes may decrease as the process of automation and globalization deepens and inequality increases. Our final result shows that, despite limited tax instruments, technological progress is always welcome and valued in the same way as in a first best world.

Suggested Citation

  • Arnaud Costinot & Iván Werning, 2018. "Robots, Trade, and Luddism: A Sufficient Statistic Approach to Optimal Technology Regulation," NBER Working Papers 25103, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:25103
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F11 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Neoclassical Models of Trade
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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