Pottery Barn rule
The Pottery Barn rule is an American expression alluding to a "you break it, you buy it" policy, by which a retail store holds a customer responsible for damage done to merchandise on display. It is an analogy often used in the political or military arena to suggest that if an actor inadvertently creates a problem, the actor is obliged to provide funding sufficient to correct it.
In reality, Pottery Barn—a chain of upscale home furnishing stores in the United States—does not have a "you break it, you bought it" policy, but instead writes off broken merchandise as a loss, as do most large American retailers. Many U.S. states have statutes forbidding such policies (absent negligence or willful destruction). Legal doctrine also holds that a retailer incurs the risk that merchandise will be destroyed by placing it where customers can handle it and not doing anything to discourage them.
Origin and usage
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman claims to have coined the term, having used the phrase "the pottery store rule" in a February 12, 2003, column. He has said he referred to Pottery Barn specifically in speeches. According to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited the rule in the summer of 2002 when warning President George W. Bush of the consequences of his planned military action in Iraq:
"You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people," he told the president. "You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all." Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.
Powell confirmed the quotation on Jonathan Dimbleby's Jonathan Dimbleby program on April 30, 2006.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry cited the rule and attributed it to Powell in debating Bush on policy on the Iraq war during the first debate of the 2004 Presidential election:
KERRY: Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president [Bush] the Pottery Barn rule: If you break it, you fix it. Now, if you break it, you made a mistake. It's the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you've got to fix it and do something with it. Now that's what we have to do. There's no inconsistency. Soldiers know over there that this isn't being done right yet. I'm going to get it right for those soldiers, because it's important to Israel, it's important to America, it's important to the world, it's important to the fight on terror. But I have a plan to do it. He [Bush] doesn't.
Powell denies using the term "pottery barn rule", but stated:
It is said that I used the "Pottery Barn rule." I never did it; [Thomas] Friedman did it… But what I did say…[is that] once you break it, you are going to own it, and we're going to be responsible for 26 million people standing there looking at us. And it's going to suck up a good 40 to 50 percent of the Army for years. And it's going to take all the oxygen out of the political environment…"
- Daniel Grant (2005). "You Break It, You Buy It? Not According to the Law". The Crafts Report Magazine. Archived from the original on December 7, 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2007. External link in
- Helen Huntley (2004). "Rule that isn't its rule upsets Pottery Barn". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 18 April 2007. External link in
- Safire, William (18 Oct 2004), "Language: You break it, you own it, you fix it", The New York Times, retrieved 25 Feb 2014
- Woodward, Bob (2004). Plan of Attack. p. 150.
- "Debate Transcript. September 30, 2004 The First Bush-Kerry Presidential Debate". Commission on Presidential Debates. September 30, 2004. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Aspen Ideas Festival".