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Pottery Barn rule

Posted by ESC on June 14, 2006

Pottery Barn rule

POTTERY BARN RULE - "The Pottery Barn rule is American political jargon referring to a 'you break it, you own it' policy of a retail store that holds a customer responsible for damage done to displayed merchandise. The policy was erroneously attributed to Pottery Barn, a chain of home furnishing stores in the United States. It was widely quoted by news media in April 2004 after being prominently mentioned in the book Plan of Attack by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.

According to Woodward, United States secretary of state Colin Powell cited this rule when warning President George W. Bush, in the summer of 2002, of the consequences of military action in Iraq...

The Pottery Barn chain denies it has such a policy - broken merchandise is written off as a loss, even if it is broken by a customer...

The source of the term 'Pottery Barn rule' is unknown, but it may not have originated with the reference in Woodward's book. In his column of February 12, 2003, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman used the phrase 'the pottery store rule' to make the point that invading Iraq carried the responsibility of rebuilding the nation. However, Friedman claims responsibility for the phrase; he is quoted as saying, 'But in my speeches I referred to the Pottery Barn.' (International Herald Tribune, October 18, 2004, "You break it, you own it, you fix it language," [2], William Safire).

The term is now almost exclusively used to mean the expectation of full accountability for the consequences of a public official's decisions and particularly, in the case of President Bush, for the consequences of his decision to invade Iraq.