Government is the institution through which society assigns authority to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that individuals cannot obtain individually. Governments have a variety of functions, but some important ones include providing security, maintaining national borders, and managing the economy. Government also provides public services such as education, health care, and a clean environment. In addition, governments are responsible for protecting citizens from outside threats, preventing crime, and regulating the private ownership of property.
Most people agree that a healthy government must balance competing interests. Governments should not be excessively authoritarian or tyrannical, but they must also protect individual freedoms and promote economic prosperity. The challenge is to define the limits of what a government can and should do.
The word government comes from the idea that it combines military and civil authority. Governments can be large, with a wide range of powers, or small, with limited authority and functions. Governments are usually made up of a legislature, executive branch, and judiciary. A legislative body is a group of people who make, change, and repeal laws. Americans call them lawmakers, and Britons call them MPs (members of parliament).
When asked to rate how well government is doing in 10 different policy areas, the public tends to give it high marks in some, but low marks in others. For example, the public is pleased with how the government responds to natural disasters and wants it to play a major role in this area. But the public is not as satisfied with the performance of government in keeping the country safe from terrorism and helping people get out of poverty.
Some of the most important roles that a government can play are regulating access to common goods that benefit many people but that may be in limited supply, such as fish in the sea or a wilderness preserve. Because these are not goods that can be privately owned and managed, the only way to ensure their availability to all is for a government to regulate their use. Governments can do this by imposing taxes or charging fees to limit access.
Governments must also ensure that they do not abuse the power that they hold. To prevent this, they must ensure that their officials are accountable to citizens and that their decisions are based on what the majority desires while respecting the views of minorities. This can be done through a system of checks and balances, or by creating a Bill of Rights that restricts the powers of elected officials.
Finally, the public expects its government to fulfill its responsibilities by enforcing laws and protecting property rights. This is why most governments have a police force, which is obligated to enforce the law and protect citizens. In addition, a government must have an army or another means of defense against attack from outside the country. The purpose of these is to protect the nation’s wealth and prevent wars that would reduce its power to maintain peace and prosperity.