Don’t drink the ‘right to repair’ Kool-Aid

Photo Credit: Getty

“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare posed the question in Romeo & Juliet to illustrate that a rose, even if called by a different name, would still maintain the same attributes. It’s a flower that smells good. The converse is equally true. Take “right to repair.” It sounds nice, but the policies underlying the slogan stink.

Of course, consumers shouldn’t face legal consequences for repairing their smartphone, computer, tractor, car, or dishwasher. Fortunately, they don’t. What’s less fortunate is that many people don’t understand what right to repair legislation does.

Colorado recently enacted the nation’s first agricultural right to repair bill. And it seems like folks from every political persuasion are rejoicing. The Washington Post ran an opinion piece last week on the Colorado law, recognizing that Democrats, Republicans, and independents are getting behind the right to repair movement. It said, “The argument is easy to understand: Manufacturers shouldn’t be able to tell you what you can and can’t do with your own stuff.”

For the most part, this is true. You can’t, however, photocopy the entirety of a textbook to sell or handout to your classmates. There are limits.

But Colorado’s right to repair law doesn’t address property rights corresponding to ownership. Instead, it deprives manufacturers’ ownership of their private property. 

An opinion piece in National Review praised the development, calling right to repair laws “a responsible way to enhance consumer choice and forestall calls for more heavy-handed government regulation.” But right to repair laws, like the one Colorado just enacted, are about as heavy-handed as government regulations can get.  

Entitled the “Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment,” the Colorado law will force manufacturers to sell their private property to independent repair shops. This is true regardless of whether or not that provider has a history of bad service or mishandling of intellectual property.

For example, let’s say a particular repair shop has conducted faulty repairs on several farming tractors. Some of those repairs have even led to death. After all, tractor rollovers are the most common cause of death for agricultural workers. Even if there is a documented history of these faulty repairs, a manufacturer or dealer would still be forced to do business with this independent provider.

This is not to say that independent repair shops are incapable of providing adequate repair. Many provide a valuable service to their customers. And manufacturers recognize how essential these shops are to their products. Even if John Deere or Caterpillar wanted to monopolize repairs on their products, they don’t have the capacity to service all of their customers. Insisting on that would be a detriment to their business.

Still, there is no monopoly in sight. The free market already provides adequate incentives for manufactures to partner and do business with independent repair providers.

More than half of agricultural parts sold from dealerships, around 56 percent, are installed either by the owner of the equipment or an independent repair shop, according to Eric Wareham, vice president of government affairs at the North American Equipment Dealers Association (NAEDA). And each dealership sells parts to an average of nine independent repair shops.

So, farmers are already repairing their equipment. The emergence of precision farming and the prevalence of digital technology in agriculture has caused some hiccups. Some farmers have voiced problems with downtime caused by technical delays with newer digital products. And industry leaders are working to alleviate those problems. John Deere and the American Farm Bureau Federation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in January of this year that would increase access to tools and services to help limit downtime caused by these technical delays.

The Colorado law leaves little room for flexibility. What manufacturers are attempting to do voluntarily in the most practical way possible will now be mandated by unnecessary attempts at state central planning.