On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced increased social distancing for my home state of New York as covid-19 infections explode all over the country. We have a long way to go before this is over. But that’s not stopping the masters of the universe from mapping out the new world to come. A new research report from Deutsche Bank gives us a glimpse of what some economists see in our future.
Entitled “What We Must Do to Rebuild,” the report outlines a series of problems that lay ahead and suggests some pretty radical solutions. For instance, Deutsche Bank researcher Luke Templeman proposes that leaders should impose a tax on people who work from home. Templeman argues that such a tax has been a long time coming, pointing out that “between 2005 and 2018, internet technology fuelled a 173 percent increase in the number of Americans who regularly worked from home.”
The report acknowledges that people working from home prior to the pandemic only made up about 5.4 percent of the workforce in the U.S. but says that number has grown to 56 percent in recent months. The proposed tax wouldn’t target citizens during times of government-imposed lockdowns, but a Deutsche Bank survey found that respondents would like to continue to work from home two to three days per week when it’s time for people to go back to the office. “That means remote workers are contributing less to the infrastructure of the economy whilst still receiving its benefits,” Templeman writes.
In other words, people working from home might not be gassing up their car, buying a cup of coffee, hiring a daycare, picking up lunch, or any of the other things that come with commuting to and from work. Providing those types of services is what keeps a large chunk of the rest of the workforce employed and the report proposes a tax on anyone who chooses to work from home in order to pool money for the people who are struggling with lost opportunities.
Templeman believes that a $10 tax per WFH day would be reasonable for a person in the U.S. making $55,000 a year. He calculates that this would roughly raise about $48 billion per year for a fund that would be used to issue $1,500 grants to fellow citizens who’ve fallen on hard times.
While it’s encouraging to see a Deutsche Bank economist proposing a policy that is such a straightforward redistribution of wealth, why not tax the people who are actually profiting from the shift to work from home? Instead of penalizing workers who are, on average, putting in more hours for their employers when they work from home, let’s make Zoom pay.
The video conferencing startup’s stock price is up more than 400% since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March. Oh, but Zoom is just a rising company getting a toe-hold in the industry, you say. How about Google? The search giant has its own teleconferencing service and profits from the pandemic in all sorts of other ways—its stock price is up 26% since. How about Amazon? It’s the biggest beneficiary of workers shopping from home and its web services department makes money hand over fist from all the little Zooms out there trying to make it in the world. Since March, Amazon’s stock price is up around 60%. This year was the first time Amazon’s paid federal income taxes since 2016. Also in March of this year, Amazon plowed ahead in its legal battle to avoid paying $277 million in back taxes to the EU. Avoiding taxes, raking in profits, and paying record salaries to executives is the name of the game in big tech. It certainly seems like these companies are contributing less to the infrastructure of society whilst still receiving its benefits.
If you can’t figure out a way to scrape together that $48 billion pool of money for workers by taking a little here and there from all the companies that are thriving because of this turbulent time, I propose a one time $100,000 tax on everyone who gets caught jerking off during a Zoom call at work.
For years, the coming wave of automation in the workforce has prompted warnings that we’re going to need to prepare for an entirely new economy in which winners will need to help prop up those who are left behind with some sort of universal basic income and help with career transition. A more limited version of that economic overhaul is already upon us. For the first time, this week, the world saw the personal fortunes of just five people rise above $100 billion—I’m sure we can find the money we need somewhere.