What Is Government?
Government is the system by which people organize themselves to create and enforce rules, protect their rights, and provide goods and services. People form governments at the local, state, and federal levels to serve their needs. Governments are responsible for defense, foreign affairs, the economy, and public services. People can decide what kind of government to have by voting for representatives to govern their town, city, or country. Different kinds of government include democracy, republic, monarchy, oligarchy, and autocracy.
Early civilizations developed governments to control the use of property, raise armies, and develop economies. In addition, governments provided stability and allowed people to work and live together. Governments also helped to establish a social order and limit the abuse of power by any group over others. These functions are the essence of what is known as the “rule of law.”
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution established the structure of our national government by dividing powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches through the Great Compromise. Each branch has specific exclusive powers and is held accountable to the others by checks and balances. Congress, for example, is a coequal branch with the President and has exclusive legislation-making authority. The President can veto laws Congress passes, but Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Local, state, and national governments make laws and draft budgets to determine how much money will be collected from citizens through taxes and tariffs to pay for the responsibilities of their respective jurisdictions. For example, local governments may set aside funds for education, police and fire departments, and parks. Governments can also impose fees or taxes on certain activities to pay for these services.
Governments help to secure common goods that cannot be provided by the market, such as water and air. These are called public goods, or ‘free-to-all’ goods, because everyone can benefit from them. Governments also protect private goods that are available to all but in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean water, or are of a type that must be shared in a cooperative way with other countries, such as ocean shipping lanes.
Governments must be funded, which is why Congress levies taxes and tariffs to fund the federal government. These revenues are used for various programs and services, including education, national security, and the environment. In addition, Congress establishes a yearly spending plan (known as an appropriation bill) for each Federal agency that includes a list of specific items or projects. Congress can also direct the use of agency funds by legislating their expenditures, which is known as legislatively directed spending.