Friday Roundup: Robots, ranked-choice voting, head tax, and online sales tax collections

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Wall Street Journal: Robots Run the Farm, But You Can Only Eat So Much

Will robots cause the factory to go the way of the farm? Many economists seem to think so. “Rising levels of productivity benefit manufacturing,” declares a recent paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “but also naturally lead to declining employment—much as the agricultural sector has experienced declining employment and rising output in the twentieth century.” Since the end of World War II, technology has caused agriculture’s share of U.S. employment to drop from nearly 10% to just 1%.

This analysis misses a point that becomes obvious once you think about it: One can eat only so much. The average person in a wealthy country consumes only about twice as many calories as someone on a subsistence diet. Demand for consumer goods is entirely different: Not only can it grow far faster than demand for food can, but innovators also create entirely new demands.

Pew Stateline: Maine Tried a New Way of Voting. Will Other States Follow?

Many election officials think ranked-choice voting is the ideal system to settle candidate-packed elections, while also giving third-party candidates a chance at winning. Some county clerks, however, aren’t thrilled, concerned about new costs and confusion…

On the ballot, voters rank candidates from first to last. The candidate earning more than half the vote wins. If no one passes the threshold, the instant runoff kicks in and the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes from those losing ballots are allocated to the remaining candidates. This process, which only requires the original vote, repeats until a candidate gets majority support.

New Geography: Cautionary Tales from the Cities of Seattle and Philadelphia

Seattle is thought by many to be the logical successor to the San Francisco Bay area, with its information technology industry and the new wealth it has produced…

Despite the temporary setback [of the head tax repeal] some proponents continue to believe that Seattle can just about do anything it wants, since it is perceived to be so desirable. For example, an Associated Press article quoted a proponent of the Seattle tax who said “It’s frustrating to see the council be so spineless when the city has so much leverage for businesses to come here despite the tax.” That is precisely the kind of thinking that could kill the “golden goose” not only of the city, but also the metropolitan area.

City Journal: Why Wayfair Isn’t Fair

What Wayfair mainly does is admit that the old standard of physical presence is no longer adequate, which means that states can now set a much lower threshold for when they can start requiring a merchant to collect taxes.

In his dissent in Wayfair, Chief Justice John Roberts warned that it was far better to leave the matter to Congress than for the Court merely to overturn its precedent, and in the process unleash uncertainty…

Now that the Supreme Court has acted, it’s even more imperative that Congress use its constitutional power over interstate commerce to make clear, through legislation, what constitutes a sufficient nexus for a state to impose sales-tax obligations on a remote firm. A compromise bill would recognize the kinds of limitations that South Dakota put in its legislation and, in the process, stop states from constructing a patchwork of different sales-tax rates and practices throughout the country. Without federal legislation setting out such limits, it seems inevitable that this issue will come before the Court again. In the meantime, merchants and consumers face new headaches.

The Mercury News: “Head tax” on Google and other Mountain View businesses headed to ballot

Mountain View voters will decide this fall whether Google and other businesses should be slapped with an employee “head tax” to help alleviate the traffic and housing problems that plague Silicon Valley.

The City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday to place a measure on the November ballot asking residents to authorize taxing businesses between $9 and $149 per employee, depending on their size. If the measure passes, the tax could generate upwards of $6 million a year for the city, with $3.3 million coming from Google alone.

But the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the decision, says it now hopes to persuade a majority of council members to lower the proposed maximum tax rates before settling on the ballot’s language.

Seattle Times: Seattle offers to settle lawsuit claiming head-tax vote broke open-meetings law

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes has offered to pay $4,001 in city funds to settle a lawsuit that contends seven City Council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan broke the state’s Open Public Meetings Act this month by secretly deciding to repeal a controversial head tax on big businesses before a public meeting and vote.

Under the terms of the offer — a copy of which was provided to The Seattle Times by the lawsuit’s plaintiff, James Egan — the payment would cover any civil fines for breaking the law, but the city wouldn’t admit that it actually did so…

But Egan said he isn’t sure he’ll accept it, adding he’ll make that decision based on the public feedback he receives.