A government, from the Latin gubernare, means “to steer a ship or boat.” It is an active agency invested with power to manage a political unit, organization or, more generally, a State. Governments set the rules that govern society and protect people from outside interference and exploitation. They provide social programs and deliver services to people. They also defend people and property from outside attack. Government is a necessary and essential part of human civilization.

The exact nature of government varies across time and place, but most modern classification systems have two main types: democracies and totalitarian regimes. These are separated by a range of hybrid systems that fall in between. Depending on the philosophy of the system, the people who run government may be one person (an autocracy), many people, or a select group of people, such as an aristocracy.

Governments exist at the local, state, national and international level and serve a variety of purposes. They provide stability, security and wealth for citizens by establishing laws and providing services such as public education, public transportation, food, housing and health care for the poor. They also provide protection against external threats, such as war and terrorism, by building large armies and securing borders with walls or fences.

Some governments use their power to advance particular ideals such as egalitarianism, economic freedom, equality, liberty, and justice. These philosophies are manifested in the form of laws, policies and regulations that affect how a government operates and the way it deals with its citizens. For example, a government that believes in equality and social justice may support the principle of universal healthcare by providing everyone with free medical care. This may require the government to raise taxes in order to provide enough money to fund such a program. Conversely, a government that prioritizes liberty over equality may authorize police departments to tap the phone conversations of suspects and restrict what newspapers can publish.

Many of the functions performed by governments are controversial and a source of ongoing debate. For instance, some people argue that it is the responsibility of government to provide social programs for its citizens, such as welfare benefits, job training, and education. However, others counter that such programs are expensive and destroy a person’s sense of personal responsibility for his or her own well being. Still other people contend that the government should regulate businesses in order to prevent them from harming the environment, abusing workers, or defrauding consumers. However, business owners often complain that the costs of complying with government regulation exceed the profits they would receive from running a lawful and competitive business. This is sometimes called regulatory capture. This is why it is important to have a limited government with checks and balances that limit the power of the executive branch and guarantee the rights of citizens.