The Biden administration teased a sweeping antimonopoly executive order last week, including a Right to Repair provision aimed at agricultural equipment - a direct assault on the corporate power of repair archnemesis John Deere. It
But it turns out that the executive order goes far beyond tractors and other agricultural equipment - it also applies to consumer electronics, including mobile phones, and this is a *huge fucking deal*.
The Right to Repair fight reached US state legislatures in 2018, when dozens of R2R bills were introduced, and then killed, by an unholy alliance of Apple and other tech companies fighting alongside Big Ag and home electronics monopolists like Wahl.
But the R2R side had its own coalition - farmers, tinkerers, small repair shop owners, auto mechanics and more. If the Biden order had stopped with an agricultural right to repair, that would have weakened the R2R coalition.
Divide-and-rule has long been part of the anti-repair playbook. In 2018, farmers got suckered into backing a California R2R bill that applied to agricultural equipment, only to see the bill gutted, denying them the right to fix their tractors.
The reason Right to Repair has stayed on the agenda even after brutal legislative losses - the Apple-led coalition killed *every single* R2R bill in 2018 - has been its support coalition.
It's a hopeful moment, following other triumphs, like the automotive R2R 2020 ballot initiative that passed in Massachusetts with an overwhelming majority despite Big Car's scare ads showed women literally being murdered by stalkers as a consequence.
Right to Repair got a massive boost this week when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made a public endorsement of the movement and described its principles as fundamental to the technological breakthroughs that led to Apple's founding.
Seen in that light, all of Apple's paternalistic arguments about blocking independent repair in the name of defending its customers' safety are exposed as having a different motivation - blocking the path Apple took for future innovators, so that it can cement its dominance.
And repair is just one element of the antimonopoly executive order, which is broad indeed, as Zephyr Teachout wrote for The Nation. All in all, there are 72 directives in the EO.
They encompass "corporate monopolies in agriculture, defense, pharma, banking, and tech," ban non-compete agreements, and direct the FTC to go to war against the meat-processing monopolies that have crushed farmers and ranchers.
And further: they direct the FCC to reinstate Net Neutrality, the CFPB to force banks to let us take our financial data with us when we switch to a rival, and open up the flow of cheaper drugs from Canada, where the government has stood up to Big Pharma.
Teachout points out that some of this is symbolic in that the agency heads don't have to do what the president says, though in practice they tend to do so, and FTC chair/superhero Lina Khan has publicly announced her support for the agenda:
Teachout calls this an historic moment. She's right. The Biden admin is refusing to treat agricultural repair as somehow different from automotive, electronic or appliance repair.
More importantly, it's refusing to treat tech monopolies as separate from all monopolies.
This is crucial, because the same kind of diverse coalition that kept R2R alive is potentially a massive force for driving an antimonopoly agenda in general, because monopolies have destroys lives and value in sectors from athletic shoes to finance, eyeglasses to beer.
The potential coalition is massive, but it needs a name. It's not enough to be antimonopoly. It has to stand *for* something.
As James Boyle has written, the term "ecology" changed the balance of power in environmental causes.
Prior to "ecology," there was no obvious connection between the fight for owl survival and the fight against ozone depletion. It's not obvious that my concern for charismatic nocturnal birds connects to your concern for the gaseous composition of the upper atmosphere.
That something can't be "competition." Competition on its own is can be terrible. Think of ad-tech companies who say privacy measures are "anticompetitive." We don't want competition for the most efficient human rights abuses.
A far better goal is "self-determination" - the right for individuals and communities to make up their own minds about how they work and live, based on democratic principles rather than corporate fiat.
That would be a fine position indeed for the Democratic Party to stake out. As Teachout writes, "[Democrats once] stood for workers and the people who produced things, and against the middlemen who sought to steal value and control industry. They understood that anti-monopoly laws were partly about keeping prices down—but also about preserving equality and dignity, and making sure that everyone who contributed to the production of goods and services got a fair cut."
@pluralistic A common and positive term for the anti-monopoly movement would help.
I would not mind beating those folks with their own weapons and say we are the ones fighting for "competitive markets". If they want to see if their ideology work some time in the future they cannot be against trying competition.
But you could go one order of magnitude larger and present the fight against monopolies as fighting inequality of power. Next to inequality of wealth, income, health and opportunity.
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