December 20, 2019 Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Why is Trump talking about dishwashers?” asks Slate. “It’s part of Trump’s core campaign message: nostalgia for a fictitious era in American history where everything was better, simpler.”

Maybe. But there’s also this reality: he is 100% correct about this whole topic. It’s a big and important one too. 

American dishwashers used to work. They were wonderful labor-saving devices. They kept our kitchens cleaner. They sanitized the dishes, helping to stop cross-contamination and generally improving health over the iffy process of handwashing. Also, as with all household appliances, they made life better, reducing one more chore that was widely seen as women’s work. 

Then one day they just stopped doing the work. 

What happened?

Older models of dishwashers used 15 gallons of water. Today the typical “Energy Star” model will attempt to wash with three gallons. Sorry but that’s just not possible, no matter how many fancy tricks you try. 

Dishwashers used to wash all the dishes in under one hour. Now they take two hours, three hours, and four hours, and still don’t get the dishes clean. So much for saving on energy. Less water, sure, but more electricity — and what does it mean to save resources when the thing doesn’t work?

All of this is directly due to government regulations. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has been researching this issue for years. They came up with the following chart on dishwashing times. 

When I was a kid using dishwashers left everything perfect. The plates were perfect. The glasses gleamed with crystal clarity. Now everything comes out foggy and spotted. This is true no matter which dishwasher you get. 

But it’s not only about how much water they use or how long they run. It’s also about the detergent. Thanks to federal mandates, all phosphates were eliminated from detergent. That means there is nothing in the mix to break down the soap and whisk it away. Now the soap just sticks to everything, which is why your dishes get ever foggier and uglier the more you wash them. 

None of this has really hurt the dishwasher industry. Sales have consistently risen for the last ten years. My theory is that people are buying replacements, thinking (rationally) that they just need a newer model. What consumers don’t know, and what manufacturers don’t want to admit, is that they no longer work. The older the model, the more likely it is to be operational. 

Sales and satisfaction are not the same. That consumers hate the new machines is widely documented. One in five homes have just stopped using their dishwashers altogether. 

Meanwhile, this huge problem that Trump has rightly identified is dismissed by the press as populist puffery. The Washington Post, for example, seems to think that complaints about dishwashers and toilets is a Koch plot. 

The Daily Beast called it a “weird obsession.” AlterNet headlined ”Trump slammed for bizarre sexist rant about dishwashers” – and this is because of Trump’s unforgivable presumption that women are the main users of dishwashers. 

But guess what? He is right here also, even if “between 1999 and 2006, the percentage of couples who divide dishwashing duty rose from a paltry 16 percent to a modest 29 percent.” 

Which is to say, women do the dishes in 70% of American households, and they hate the chore. Instead of slamming Trump for “sexism,” his campaign for getting rid of regulations that have ruined dishwashers should be seen as a feminist issue. It is women who have mostly borne the brunt of these regulations. Deregulation will help them get their lives back. 

These regulations have caused an infuriating and devastating degradation of the quality of appliances and the quality of life in our homes. Trump is a smart politician. He specializes in finding issues that no one else is talking about how they directly affect the quality of life. For a man often wrong about issues such as trade, he has absolutely nailed this one perfectly. 

It’s gratifying for me personally that this is finally an issue. I’ve been trying to alert people to how government is ruining our homes for longer than a decade. If people knew the full extent to which government regulations have messed up our lives, there would be mass outrage in this country. This is something Trump knows but the mainstream press pretends is not an issue. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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