Libertarians and the Right to Repair

Tractor Cab

I was chatting with a GPS programmer for John Deere. The conversation was fascinating. Apparently, legacy farmers are upset because in order to stay competitive, they have to mortgage tractors that cost as much as a house, and if something happens, the farmers can’t just fix the machinery themselves, like their parents and grandparents did before them. Rather, the farmers are at the mercy of some corporate technician insisting on certain repairs and parts. Some of the anxiety the farmers experience is part of the growing pains of a new economy. However, there is also a good amount of the resentment is grounded in the fact that they are no longer in charge of their civil identity. In order to compete in the market, they need access to certain equipment, but that equipment itself isn’t sustained by the farmer’s own wits, grift or ethic.

Enter the Right to Repair movement. The movement is trying to make sure that third parties have access to the diagnostic systems, tools, and parts to repair machinery.

Libertarians will tell you that the government’s only job is to secure property, but property right isn’t the only mode of freedom. Anyone who actually thinks through the constitutive elements of self-determination understands that Apple, Caterpillar, or John Deere shouldn’t have a disproportionate influence over a farmer’s identity, even if the farmer is using their equipment to compete with nature and other farmers.

Rather, there is a quality of civil freedom that is impaired by having entire industries depend on needful equipment outside of any of the participant member’s control. We are talking about farmers laboring the tyranny of John Deere.

The right to repair may be a civil right. What I like is that it’s a civil right that cannot be reduced to a property right, and if conservative America leans into it, the right to repair may open the conversation for the government’s role in securing political and social rights that are not tied to property.

We have Republicans pushing for a child tax credit and a right to repair. This isn’t a bad thing. What it is is an America where the quality of life imagined under previous economic conditions is becoming more and more inadequate and untenable in a way that’s forcing conservatives to look under the hood of our political economy and start tinkering around.