The Role of Government
Government is the organization through which a nation, state, or locality exercises its authority and performs its functions. It is responsible for setting and enforcing the rules of society, protecting its citizens from violence and other dangers, managing its economy, and providing public goods. Governments also provide ways for citizens to participate in politics and to express their opinions publicly. People who form governments choose how they will organize themselves, and the organization of government reflects the values and beliefs of the people that form it. Government can be classified by the people who have control of it: one person (an autocracy), a group of people (such as an aristocracy or an oligarchy), or the entire population of the country (a democracy).
People form governments to protect them from wars, crime, and natural disasters and to provide valuable public goods such as education, police services, roads, and parks. They also provide safety and security in the form of military forces, fire departments, and mail service. Governments also provide social welfare programs such as unemployment benefits, food stamps, and health insurance. The role of government is controversial, and people differ in their views about what it should do. Some believe that a government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens from violence and the worst vicissitudes of life, while others believe that it should focus on economic development, social justice, and environmental protection.
The government that provides these services, which are called public goods, is funded by taxes or fees levied on its citizens. It may also borrow money from the public, which is done by selling securities such as bonds. Government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels then allocate funds to things that will benefit their constituents. For example, on the state level, government agencies spend money on things such as maintenance of public colleges and universities, road construction, and wildlife management. At the federal level, spending includes defense, Medicare and Medicaid, and national parks.
At the local level, city councils levy fees to support city projects and services. They enact laws and policies through ordinances, but they must comply with state laws. They also oversee city finances, and they manage municipal courts that hear cases such as traffic tickets or disorderly conduct.
In the United States, people determine how their government is organized by voting for representatives to represent them in Congress and their local communities. They are part of a democratic republic, meaning they can make changes to the way their government operates. The Constitution outlines rules for creating the different branches of the U.S. government, and years of building upon those rules have created the system we have today.
The three branches of the United States government are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The founding fathers designed these branches to work together as a collaborative checks-and-balances system to avoid abuse of power by any one branch.