On Aug. 27, 2014, Marin County Superior Court Judge Paul M. Haakenson found home-improvement-giant Lowe’s Home Centers guilty of false advertising. While such rulings are all too common (think Airborne herbal supplements or Coca-Cola’s POM Wonderful), what sets the Lowe’s story apart is that early reports claimed that the court found that calling a 2x4 by its common name was misleading because the product wasn’t really 2 inches by 4 inches.

But that’s not quite right. The suit was brought by the district attorneys of five Los Angeles–area counties at the behest of officials from local Weights and Measures departments who were concerned that consumers had been misled by the labeling. It turns out that the folks at Weights and Measures weren’t completely out of line. The real issue...

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