Putting Trust on the Agenda
It’s often said that people mistrust government because their every interaction with it— at the motor vehicles department or dealing with Social Security—is filled with frustration. But since the 1990s, the service-delivery side of government has been so streamlined that going to the DMV is a joy compared to interactions with a private company such as a cable-TV provider or health insurance company. The Social Security Administration regularly wins awards for customer satisfaction.
So why do people still mistrust government? In answering that question we often look at government from the wrong end—as a service-delivery system with citizens as customers. But we form our strongest impressions of government when we act as citizens, not customers—that is, when we vote, volunteer or contribute to campaigns, or take an interest in a legislative decision. All those are often ugly, unrewarding processes that erode all confidence that government can do anything right.