Government is an institution that creates rules and enforces them, protects citizens from outside interference and often provides goods and services for people. According to the theory of functionalism, societies develop social structures, or institutions, that persist because they play a role in helping society survive. The family, education, government and religion are examples of such structures. As a society evolves, it changes these structures, but they remain because of the positive roles that they play.
The first function of government is protection. Governments protect citizens from robbery, crime, war and other threats that might otherwise harm them. Government also protects the environment and natural resources. For example, the government may protect the fish in the ocean or water in the rivers so that everyone can enjoy them. Governments can also provide certain goods and services that people cannot produce for themselves individually, such as national security or education.
Another function of government is the production of infrastructure, or the physical structures that make it possible for a nation to operate. The government provides schools, roads, trains, police forces and public parks. It also produces a wide variety of materials, such as aluminum, steel, petroleum and coal. Governments raise funds to pay for these things by charging taxes on people’s income and property. The government then drafts budgets to determine how the money will be spent. On the local level, the money goes to school districts, fire departments and parks. On the state and national levels, the money is used for defense, health care and welfare programs.
One final function of government is to distribute goods and services that are too expensive for private businesses to produce. The government can also distribute information, such as scientific reports and news. It can even provide some goods and services for free, such as the police force, the military and education.
Governments are often more stable than private businesses. They are less likely to downsize during economic hardships, and they are more able to hire new employees when times are good. This stability can make working for the government an attractive option to job seekers.
The United States has a federal government with three branches; the legislative, executive and judicial. These branches work together to set laws, carry out those laws and judge any conflicts between laws. James Madison wrote that the separation of powers is important because it makes it difficult for a faction to take control of the whole government. This is because the faction has to compete with the other branches for power, and it must also compete with other factions to be successful. This system of checks and balances helps keep the government out of the hands of extremists and tyrants. It also allows the public to have many opportunities to influence legislation as it moves through the policymaking process, from idea to law. If a law is passed that a citizen disagrees with, the citizen can try to persuade the government to change or veto the bill.