Biden Administration Is Late to Right to Repair Party, but that Won’t Stop Them from Taking Credit

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President Biden signed an Executive Order on “Promoting Competition in the American Economy” in July 2021. The EO covered a wide-range of policy areas like airline fees, antitrust, net neutrality, and occupational licensing.

“Right to repair” is a less known topic addressed in the order. The EO encourages the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use its administrative powers to address “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair of items, such as the restrictions imposed by powerful manufacturers that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment.”

A few months prior, in May 2021, the FTC released a report, “Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions.” And in July 2022, the FTC announced three right to repair cases against grill maker Weber-Stephen, motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, and outdoor power equipment maker MWE Investments. 

The Biden administration seems keen on taking credit for the recent strides made by the right to repair movement. And some think we may hear the issue come up in tonight’s State of the Union address, something that would certainly cause right to repair advocates glee.

But the administration is late to the right to repair party. The Repair Association, a trade association composed of repair enthusiasts and consumer advocates, has been pushing model legislation on right to repair for a decade. Nearly 200 versions of the model bill have been introduced in over 40 state legislatures, and the New York state legislature passed the first version of the bill targeted at consumer electronics. 

I explained that the right to repair movement is not a property rights movement in an op-ed for Real Clear Policy back in August of 2022. Rather, the movement and its legislation primarily target antitrust and environmental concerns at the expense of property rights. One recent study found that similar right to repair proposals could lead to a “lose-lose-lose” scenario in which manufacturers, consumers, and the environment are all worse off.

These legislative proposals threaten to break a thriving aftermarket for repairs. An uptick in enforcement on right to repair by an overly enthusiastic FTC would only make things worse.