Laws Don't Make America Great, It's Freedom From Them
Would you want to return to "a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago?" That might depend on what it was, and why. Progress relegates many practices -- like having to yell into a telephone to be heard -- to the memory hole. Does Silicon Valley connote conformity? Those companies earned their riches by solving our problems creatively. Do you want to be led by the nose during your next tech purchase? If your name is Susan Talamantes-Eggman, your answer to all three questions is yes. If it isn't, beware: This "progressive" is the eighteenth state legislator nationwide to push "right to repair" legislation. These proposals threaten our right to contract, thus our freedom to pay a pittance for marvels that would have passed for magic a century ago.
Advocates raise Cain about the difficulty of electronics repair but are indifferent to what that means and why that may be. Take water-resistant phones for example. A failure of any of the patented technology, specialized assembly methods, or special adhesives can let water in. I can't even begin to imagine repairing one of these, much less wanting to. At least one right-to-repair bill would make it illegal to sell a phone unless the battery was easy to replace. Easy? For whom? At what additional cost? Some vendors require phones be sent in for apparently easy repairs. Eggman asserts that, "[T]he onus is on [Apple] to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them." She’s wrong. Whether Apple needs to protect a trade secret, wants to avoid lawsuits, or is simply capricious, customers can and should factor that in when they purchase a phone. Apple can't make you buy -- but Eggman is trying to make Apple pass out manuals and parts to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, as if they’re qualified to fix your devices.
"Fair repair" doesn't just insult the wizards of Silicon Valley by pretending it's trivial to fix smartphones. It insults you and reeks of paternalism -- the idea so common in politics today that we are incompetent to make our own decisions. Are you unable to follow the news? To check reviews before you buy? To decide what you do or don't want to fix? To read a warranty? To cope while your phone’s in the shop? We already have remedies for unreasonable or deceptive contracts: At least one attorney wants to start a class-action suit against John Deere, another "fair repair" target. This "cure," for the government to cancel your agreements if enough people gang up, is worse than the "disease." Conversely, if you had a great product that you had to protect from copying, how would you like it if some random politician who deems her repair bills too high gutted your contract? These bills aren’t just patronizing; they are unjust.
"Fair repair" wouldn’t just constrain your choices; it would do so with discredited and destructive thinking. In 1850, Frederic Bastiat explained the difference between the seen and the unseen -- the glazier's profits from a broken window versus what the shop owner could have bought had the window remained intact. Here, we break a contract and behold a new mom-and-pop repair industry -- at the expense of the confidence of inventors that they can make a living. Before that, our Founders enshrined in the Constitution the clause, "No State shall ... pass any ... Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts..." (This protection has wrongly been undermined ever since FDR.) It might sound good to have Bubba fix your iPhone without losing warranty protection, but this works both ways. You stand to forgo both unimaginable future technology and your own contract protection, should some official portray you as the bad guy or the other party as a victim. The government should enforce contracts, not rip them to shreds; and settle disputes, not take sides.
It is interesting to note that Bastiat was, in part, answering protectionists like Donald Trump. Eggman and Trump both pay lip service to American industry while trampling the liberty that makes it possible. Tariffs and "fair repair" are wrong because of the same moral principle. They interfere with our right to make our own purchasing decisions. If we are to look to the past as a guide, we should consider that America's rise to greatness occurred when we honored contracts, and left individuals to make decisions for themselves.