April 13, 2013
Transhumans: Will They Be More Heavily Taxed?

Transhumans (genetically engineered, enhanced with embedded computers) will earn more money because they'll be more productive. So they will be higher tax brackets. Therefore they'll pay much more in taxes than unenhanced humans. Okay, but beyond their earning power will they be singled out for special taxes due to their beyond-human status?

This is one of the thoughts that came across my mind while reading Ramez Naam's excellent novel Nexus. A couple of decades hence Naam imagines embedded nanotech as illegal rather than just subjected to higher tax rates. But suppose it is actually allowed. Or suppose offspring genetic engineering is allowed. Will superhumans be singled out for more confiscatory tax treatment?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 April 13 01:32 PM 

Abelard Lindsey said at April 13, 2013 4:42 PM:

An "enhancement" tax? A one-time tax on a medical procedure, like the medical device tax in ObamaCare, is possible. However, having an annual "enhancement" tax like something you would have to declare on a 1040 every year is unlikely.

For one thing, how would they know if you have been "enhanced"? Especially if you travel internationally to have the procedure done. Same problem with making it illegal. Again, one simply travels international for medical therapies not available at home. Immigration control cannot even make you pee in a cup when passing through immigration and customs. Its unlikely they would be able to force returning travelers to undergo medical exams while passing through immigration and customs.

Randall Parker said at April 13, 2013 8:51 PM:


If you make offspring that are genetically enhanced then one genetic test will show this.

I expect the legal power of the US government to do surveillance to continue to increase. But I am not just asking this question about the US government.

Abelard Lindsey said at April 13, 2013 10:36 PM:

Set voting rights proportional to the amount of taxes one pays.

Abelard Lindsey said at April 13, 2013 10:52 PM:

On the other hand, if enhanced people are more productive than others, would not countries compete for such talent in the same manner of companies competing for talent? Countries that choose to tax transhumans more will see them emigrate to places that tax them less, thereby loosing the economic benefits of their productivity. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot, although governments do this all the time. Its a global competition for talent and productivity. I think there will be certain enclaves (city-states like Singapore) that will promote enhancement and will be very welcoming of those who choose to enhance, and thus become more productive.

Yes, I agree the surveillance powers of the U.S. government will increase, probably until its final collapse.

James Bowery said at April 14, 2013 9:57 AM:

When talking politics, such as tax laws, the only thing that matters are the rentiers: Those who can afford to invest their lives in political action because they live off the milk and honey of civilization's protections of property rights (private) and against natural duel to the death as the appeal of last resort in dispute processing (public).

Tax policy is in service of private sector rentiers: taxing economic activity (income, value added, sales, capital gains, etc.) rather than economic inactivity (net assets). Public sector rentiers don't care who they get the money from just so long as they remain in control of its distribution. The deadly embrace of the public and private rentiers is accomplished by the private sector rentiers agreeing never to push a citizen's dividend as the means of delivering social goods and the public sector rentiers agreeing never to push a net asset tax as replacement for productivity (activity) taxes.

The way an increase in taxes on "trans"humans will be accomplished will be a simple extension of the current conflation of wealth with income. No special classification is necessary.

Now, what might be interesting would be germ-line modifications that render those blood-lines independent of the economy.

Wolf-Dog said at April 14, 2013 6:39 PM:

" beyond their earning power will they be singled out for special taxes due to their beyond-human status? "

It will not be necessary to impose a higher bracket to the genetically enhanced people: On the contrary, they might even be put in a lower tax bracket because the productivity of people increases as function of IQ, in such a way that this improvement is more than a simple linear dependence, it is probably exponentially increasing as a function of IQ. Thus, even with a lower tax bracket, if the average IQ of the enhanced people is over 160, this will create such a boost in productivity and innovation that the net collected taxes will be far higher, even if only 5 % or 10 % of the population is enhanced. On the other hand, the downside of genetic enhancement is that precisely because there will be a lot more prosperity and welfare available for the genetically less fortunate but high fertility groups, this will ultimately cause the population of the latter group to increase even faster.

But the issues with genetic enhancement are not so much taxation and limitation of privileges, the real question is how this will affect society genetically:

1) Genetic enhancement would marginalize the groups who choose not to resort to this method, as they would become less competitive. This would also cause social tension. The enhanced groups will not only surpass the other groups economically, academically, and in their social stature, but it is very possible that they will also start mistreating the less privileged groups as undesirable inferior people, with dire consequences for the ones who are not enhanced.

2) Genetic enhancement would change the genes of the offspring of even those who do not use this method, unless it is forbidden for those who are not enhanced to marry genetically modify people.

But there will be several kinds of genetic enhancement: For example, embryo selection and sperm selection is also genetic enhancement, but these are entirely natural and do not artificially insert new components to the DNA, only the quality and concentration of various existing features is changed. Of course, there will also be more aggressive and radical modification of DNA that will look monstrous.

In any case, this is the new arms race of the future, and it will be very difficult to stop this. Even if the Republicans and Democrats resist genetic enhancement, when word spreads that rival nations are adopting enhancement that will give them a competitive advantage, there will be a panic reaction here. Let us recall that the Manhattan Project started precisely because the the government of the United States learned that Nazi Germany already had a research program to develop nuclear weapons.

Wolf-Dog said at April 15, 2013 1:10 AM:

Thus it is inevitable that genetically enhanced humans will be constructed just as such grains already exist. The only question is how governments will regulate it.

Ronald Brak said at April 15, 2013 1:19 AM:

Well, generally taxation increases with money made up to a point and then falls off. If the transhumans are brilliant at making money then it won't be long before they're paying very little tax, just like Warren Buffet apparently has lower taxes than his secretary. It's difficult to get the rich to pay taxes now that they're not all supergeniuses so it might be more difficult if they are. Of course the transhumans may be in favour of paying higher taxes to support the olds as they either die off or get retrofitted to transhuman status themselves. Provided they have some wisdom to go along with their intelligence they may believe that new challenges are more valuable than old wealth.

faruq said at April 15, 2013 7:15 AM:

all the collected knowledge of the human race should be broadcast into space. in case of an doomsday scnario, at least it wouldnt have all been in vain... maybe some alien race in the far future could benefit from our info.

Jehu said at April 15, 2013 10:38 AM:

Let's take a modest interpretation of transhuman---say the average transhuman has an IQ 1 sigma beyond what they would 'naturally have' and physical health 1 sigma beyond what they would naturally get with a best of N preimplantation genetic diagnosis protocol.
Society would react to this group by either being ruled by it or by implementing a pogrom against it more ferocious than any ever before. Hammer or anvil, not much middle ground. In the case of these particular transhumans, you'd have a hard time spotting them with a genetic test, as they're not doing anything that couldn't happen naturally (indeed, some people already DO 'roll' this well or better relative to their parents/grandparents anyway). But pogroms don't require very high standards of evidence.

Phillep Harding said at April 15, 2013 4:10 PM:

Cool. Spiderman has to pay a special tax because he can climb walls.

Sooooo, someone genetically augmented can't keep his pants up (a common problem among those who regard themselves as superior)and some unsuspecting kid ends up with a gene package his parents cannot (will not) explain. Oh, the complications. How fun.

Alvin said at April 16, 2013 10:36 AM:

Re: Faruq. With great power/technology comes great responsibilities. A developing species should only have technology/knowledge they can comprehend and ratinalize the total effects it have, hense, we should not share our discoveries. Should they be given the knowledge of making an atom bomb? or splicing genes?...

Faruq said at April 17, 2013 3:58 AM:

in the near futre we can design a SETI type signalbut which will allow alien species at ANY LEVEL OF EVOLUTION TO benefit. So a very advanced signal could trigger behavourial changes in the brains of life-forms at even the level of chimps and possibly even reptiles!
maybe this type of singal was what triggered our own rapid evolution,rather than a random cosmic ray-burst as is commonly suggested.

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