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The Profits of Distrust: Citizen-Consumers, Drinking Water, and the Crisis of Confidence in American Government, Manuel P. Teodoro, Samantha Zuhlke and David Switzer

Reviewed by David Glick
 

Americans buy lots of bottled water. They also have little trust in government. In The Profits of Distrust, Manuel Teodoro, Samantha Zuhlke, and David Switzer link these two realities in a compelling and sweeping argument about basic service provision, confidence in government, political participation, and equity.

One of the book’s concluding reform proposals calls for increased emphasis on “tap water aesthetics” to make water “not merely safe, but truly excellent (220).” This recommendation sharply elucidates the authors’ political science approach to tap water. Currently, water utilities are required to meet safety standards, but not ones for taste, odor, or color (220). Following from the book’s social science argument, the policy critique is that a safety focus is too narrow because beliefs about water have broad consequences irrespective of what the technocratic approach says. Perceptions of this basic public service and deeper questions about trust and governances are inseparable from one another, and from fundamental issues of civic participation and equity.

This and other recommendations follow from engaging and well-developed theory and empirics. The build-up starts with a compelling puzzle of consumer behavior. Commercial water is not the luxury good some assume. Its consumption varies inve

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