The Least-Trusted Jobs in America: Congress Members and Car Salespeople

Ah, December, time for my favorite Gallup survey of the year: Ranking the most- and least-honest professions. Here they are:

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There is no such thing as a Universal Theme of Vocational Trust, but there is something at play here, which you might call The Twilight of (Some) Elites. To over-generalize: Un-elected positions of authority dominate the top of the list, especially in medicine. Elected officials and salespeople dominate the second half.

There are a couple ways to read this. First, we trust people we have no choice but to trust. Nurses and doctors and engineers and professors and priests and psychologists aren't merely professionals, they're experts in fields where expertise comes at a high price. Most of those jobs require significant post-secondary education in something the average person doesn't know much about. We trust their honesty partly because we're rarely in a position to prove them wrong.

On the other hand, in professions where consumers or patients are more likely to have strong opinions -- or feel a real sense of agency -- it seems we're more likely to distrust supposed experts. We choose what cars to buy, what ads to look at, what politicians to elect, what stocks to buy, what insurance policy to purchase ... and choosing between competing options forces us to distrust or disparage the choice we don't make. In particular, we don't trust people trying to sell us something because we know that their objective isn't to provide a service, but to make a sale. More broadly, we don't trust people whose job is to compete with other people for our attention and money. Not sure if that says more about us or them.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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