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  • Cited by 5
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
August 2022
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Book description

The burgeoning bottled water industry presents a paradox: Why do people choose expensive, environmentally destructive bottled water, rather than cheaper, sustainable, and more rigorously regulated tap water? The Profits of Distrust links citizens' choices about the water they drink to civic life more broadly, marshalling a rich variety of data on public opinion, consumer behavior, political participation, geography, and water quality. Basic services are the bedrock of democratic legitimacy. Failing, inequitable basic services cause citizen-consumers to abandon government in favor of commercial competitors. This vicious cycle of distrust undermines democracy while commercial firms reap the profits of distrust – disproportionately so from the poor and racial/ethnic minority communities. But the vicious cycle can also be virtuous: excellent basic services build trust in government and foster greater engagement between citizens and the state. Rebuilding confidence in American democracy starts with literally rebuilding the basic infrastructure that sustains life.


‘Teodoro, Zuhlke, and Switzer make a compelling case that trust in water and trust in government are intimately linked. The implications for water professionals are profound. When we excel, we advance both public health and civic engagement. When we fail – or when others intentionally feed distrust – the result is disillusionment.'

David B. LaFrance - Chief Executive Officer, American Water Works Association

‘The Profits of Distrust demonstrates a far-reaching consequence of America's infrastructure crisis: as pipes crumble, so does the public's confidence in government. What's more, the authors show that distrust is contagious and leads those who are most politically marginalized to rely on more expensive, and less trustworthy, private providers for essential public services. This enlightening book links the mechanics of service delivery to our democratic ideals, and suggests how both might be repaired.'

Megan Mullin - Professor of Environmental Politics, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

‘Water is the stuff of life, but it’s also the river that runs through every corner of politics. In this fascinating new book, Teodoro, Zuhlke, and Switzer explore the values that shape the big decisions about water, from the distribution of one of government’s most important resources to the big puzzles of inequality that play themselves out in water policy. This is a great book about how politics affects water and how water affects politics.’

Donald F. Kettl - Professor Emeritus and Former Dean, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

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