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 August 1, 2019

(Illustration by Terry LaBan)

right to re• pair

noun

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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