Warren and Sanders Say We Need a “Right To Repair” Tractors. Here’s Why That’s Important.

From John Deere to Apple, corporations try to prevent you from fixing your own stuff. But a growing movement is pushing back.

In These Times Editors

(Illustration by Terry LaBan)

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right to re• pair


1. The principle that people should be allowed to fix their own stuff

Right to repair just basically says, Hey guys, you got to make the information and the parts available.’” —Elizabeth Warren, speaking on All In With Chris Hayes on March 27

Wait, we don’t have the right to repair stuff now? 

Maybe no one’s physically stopping you, but they sure are making it hard — and the implications are huge, from consumer electronics to farm equipment.

Many manufacturers are putting up obstacles one way or another, from special service codes meant to halt third-party repairs to creating proprietary parts that tinkerers can’t get without skirting patent law.

And when you do take a broken item back to the manufacturer, you are often encouraged to just buy a new one, or at least buy expensive replacement parts, when the original part would be perfectly possible to fix.

Beyond being annoying, what’s the impact?

For one thing, electronics are the fastest growing part of our waste stream and often include toxic elements that get thrown out. Recycling programs, which often just ship the waste to poor countries, aren’t the answer, either. 

And while a few hundred dollars to repair a phone may simply be a nuisance for some, it can be a major burden for others. Manufacturers’ monopolies on repairs can be even more damaging when someone’s livelihood depends on the equipment—which is a huge problem for farmers right now.

So that’s why Bernie and Warren have been talking about John Deere tractors? 

Yep! John Deere has made the extremely bold claim that people who buy their equipment don’t own it, they’re just, like, renting it. Some farmers are forced to scrape together thousands of dollars for repairs during their narrow planting and harvesting seasons — because the equipment software locks up, and only John Deere holds the key. 

Sanders and Warren have both endorsed a national right to repair” in the ag industry, which requires making repair instructions and equipment parts available.

Right to repair for cars and trucks passed in Massachusetts in 2012, and the auto industry agreed to implement the same standards nationwide. This year, 20 states considered right-to-repair legislation, though opposition from Apple and other corporations makes victories hard to come by.

So for anyone who’s ever felt irrational rage toward a broken inanimate object, it’s worth remembering: You don’t hate your cracked iPhone screen; you hate capitalism.

This is part of The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of right to repair, see, Apple Doesn’t Want You To Be Able To Fix Your iPhone — Here’s Why.”

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