The Basic Functions of Government

Government is a system of people, laws, and officials that define and control the country that you live in. It regulates what happens in public life and often rules over private life as well. Governments come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all have the same basic function: to govern.

Modern governments are generally classified as democracies, totalitarian regimes, and authoritarian regimes with a wide range of hybrid systems in between. Governments are also characterized by their form of political power, which can be obtained through elections or hereditary succession. The most common forms of government are monarchy, oligarchy, democracy (direct or representative), and autocracy.

One of the most important things that governments do is protect public goods, like wildlife and natural resources that are in limited supply and must be protected so that some people don’t take everything that’s available and leave others with nothing. The same goes for services that are essential to everyone, such as national security or education. Governments can protect these public goods and services because they have the ability to tax, draw upon the nation’s entire resource base, and compel citizen compliance.

Another important function of government is to provide essential public services such as law enforcement, fire departments, and mail service. These services help people in times of need, such as when someone’s house is on fire or when a criminal breaks into their home. Governments can provide these services because they have the ability to collect taxes and fees, build infrastructure such as roads, schools, and fire stations, and hire employees who work in those fields.

The vast majority of the money that a country’s government spends comes from a combination of taxes and borrowing. The federal government, for example, borrows most of the money that it spends on goods and services. Mandatory spending is a large portion of federal government expenditures, including Social Security and Medicare for retirees, food stamps and Medicaid for low-income Americans, highway construction and maintenance, and other safety net programs. These expenses are funded primarily through the income and payroll taxes that Americans pay, and to a lesser degree from general fund revenues. Governments also spend a significant amount on interest expense, which is the cost of borrowing funds from financial markets.