Government is the way a society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish goals and provide benefits that the community as a whole needs. Governments can be categorized according to how people gain power: one person (an autocracy), select groups of people (aristocracy), the majority of a nation’s citizens as a whole (democracy), or a mixture of these two types (republic).

A central function of government is protecting its citizens. Governments use their taxing power to impose laws to protect the health, safety and property of citizens, as well as to secure its borders against attack from other nations. Governments also protect the rights of citizens to free speech, a free press and to participate in elections to choose their leaders. In addition, most governments provide a social safety net in case of emergencies and help people buy the things they need to survive.

The people who govern a country are elected by the citizens to positions in local councils, state legislatures and Congress. These bodies make laws to govern their jurisdictions, as well as draft budgets that allocate funds from taxes collected. At the local level, money is allotted for things like education, police and fire departments and maintenance of parks. At the national level, money is spent on things like defense, Medicare, Social Security and national parks. Governments have diplomats who communicate with the governments of other countries to solve problems and to make trade agreements and exchange cultural or social experiences.

In the United States, the President, Speaker of the House and the Vice President are the members of the Executive Branch. They are assisted by Federal departments and independent agencies that have responsibilities ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The President can veto laws passed by the legislative branch, but if enough votes are cast to override a presidential veto, those laws become law.

Six in seven households receive some form of government assistance, such as food stamps, child care or unemployment benefits. Governments also provide education, medical care and infrastructure for transportation. Unlike private businesses, which shed jobs during economic downturns, the government generally continues to add jobs.

While it is difficult to pin down a precise definition of government, most people recognize certain characteristics. These include: Majority rule with minority rights: Decisions made by the majority should be based on what is best for the nation, but the opinions of the minority should be respected. Accountability: Elected and appointed officials should be held accountable for their actions. An independent judiciary: Justice should be unbiased and fair, and individuals should not have their rights violated. A Bill of Rights: Individuals should have a set of basic rights, including freedom of speech, religion and the press. Political freedom: All individuals should be allowed to vote for the leaders of their choice, and there should be competing political parties that allow voters a variety of choices. These principles are considered fundamental to Western democracies and many other governments around the world.