Government (from the Latin locution gubernare, meaning to steer a ship or vessel) is an active agency invested with the executive power to manage a political unit, organization, or more often, a State. Different governments exist in different countries and States have their own rules regarding the form of government and the distribution of powers, functions, duties and responsibilities. Government is essential to the existence of civilized society because it sets the parameters of everyday behavior for its citizens, protects them from outside interference and provides for their well-being and happiness.

Government at the local, state and national level sets goals that help to secure a nation’s economic prosperity and provides goods and services for its citizens. Governments also perform a vital service by protecting “public goods” that are available to all at no cost, but in limited supply, such as clean air or water. Governments can also provide certain services that the market cannot, such as national security or education.

Most people choose to participate in government by electing representatives to city councils, state legislatures, Congress and other governing bodies at the local and state levels. The elected officials then make laws to determine how a country is run. In addition, they draft budgets that set aside money to pay for the government’s programs. This includes the military, police and fire departments, schools, roads, highways and parks. The government raises money by imposing taxes on individuals and businesses.

These funds are then used to provide programs and services that the market cannot, or would be difficult to, do on its own. For example, it is hard to imagine a private company building an army that could protect the United States from attack. Government is the only institution with the ability to assemble a large group of men and women, draw upon its resources, create plans for defense and attack, and compel citizen compliance.

While different governments vary in their structure, most have three branches of authority: legislative, executive and judicial. Each branch is assigned specific duties, responsibilities and power. These branches are separated to limit any one branch from having too much power and to allow for checks and balances between them. For example, the President can make proclamations and decrees that have the force of law, but these can be overturned by the judicial branch. Lawmakers, in the legislative branch, research, discuss and change bills before putting them to a vote for a final decision. The judicial branch interprets laws and the President nominates judges to the Supreme Court and lower courts. Congress confirms those nominations and votes on them.