Government is a means of organizing a society, a system by which people share power to accomplish goals they couldn’t do individually. The goal of a government is to protect and improve the lives of its citizens by creating laws, enforcing them, and providing essential services like education and healthcare. Governments can also provide economic prosperity and secure national borders. These are examples of public goods—services that everyone needs but the market can’t provide in sufficient quantity or at a low enough cost. Governments also regulate access to natural resources and social goods, like education, water, firefighting, police services, parks, wildlife, and air quality.
The role of government has changed over time, but governments still make and enforce laws and enact other policies to protect their citizens. They also regulate private property and business activities, and impose taxes to raise revenue. Governments are also a source of social programs and benefits, such as social security, unemployment insurance, and education. These social programs are sometimes financed by tax dollars and some are subsidized by the government through grants or other subsidies.
A government may be elected, appointed, or hereditary. The most common types of modern political systems are democracies (rule by the people), republics (elected representatives speak on behalf of the people), and monarchies (hereditary leadership).
Different countries have different ways to structure their government, and some have hybrid forms of the main three. Some are ruled by dictatorships or other totalitarian regimes. Others are run by democratic or republican parties, or other non-authoritarian forms like oligarchy, timocracy, theocracy, and aristocracy.
Governments have a lot of jobs to do, and many of them are very important. Governments must be strict on the country’s borders and within the boundaries of the nation, they must establish a system for justice that serves all citizens equally, they must set standards for safety in work and housing, and they must ensure a stable economy. Governments must also provide protection from external threats, domestic violence, and natural disasters.
In the United States, we have three branches of government: legislative (congress, senate, and house of representatives), executive (president, cabinet, and vice president), and judicial (Supreme Court and other federal courts). Each branch works together to set laws, but each has its own responsibilities as well. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries them out, and the judicial branch evaluates whether a law is constitutional or not.
These three branches are designed to check each other, so one branch doesn’t have too much power and overstep its bounds. Congress can override a presidential veto by passing an override bill with two-thirds of the votes in both houses of the legislature. The judicial branch is also able to check the executive and legislative branches by declaring laws or presidential actions unconstitutional. This is called separation of powers, and it is a critical part of the U.S. constitution and its founding documents.