Government is the process through which a political unit, such as a country, state, city, township or village, exercises authority and imposes rules. It also provides benefits and services to the citizens. Governments can be organized in many different ways, and the way they are structured is determined by the people who elect them to govern. In the United States, for example, the people make decisions about how their government should be run by voting for representatives on school boards, city councils and township boards of supervisors, as well as for the president of the United States, members of Congress, governors, and other state and local officials.
In the United States, the federal government makes laws that affect everyone in the country and the state governments draft budgets that determine how funds will be spent for things like education, fire departments, police forces, and maintaining roads and bridges. The money that government bodies spend comes from taxes, fees and other sources of revenue. When these revenue streams are not sufficient to cover all of the money that governments spend, they must borrow money. One of the ways that they do this is by selling bonds to the public. When a person buys a bond, they give the government an IOU that will be redeemable at some point in the future for the amount that was paid up front plus interest. Governments also use their tax collection authority to collect other types of fees, such as admission to parks or utilities rates.
Another important function of the government is to regulate access to “common goods” – resources that are free for all to use, but that are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water. In order to ensure that people do not take everything that is available, and leave others with nothing, government entities must limit access to these resources and protect them from over-exploitation.
Governments also play a critical role in providing stability and security. They provide military protection for the citizens of the nation, as well as law enforcement and fire departments. In addition, they can offer food and shelter for those who cannot provide for themselves, as well as education, health care and other social welfare programs.
People also want their government to be fair and accountable. They want their elected officials to make decisions based on what the majority wants, but not to ignore the opinions of those who disagree with them. They also want checks and balances to prevent corruption, and a Bill of Rights that limits the power of government officials while guaranteeing the rights of citizens. This is a difficult task because most governments begin as socio-economic movements and have strong ties to particular political ideologies, so their classification can be fluid. Nevertheless, the most widely recognized forms of government today include democracies and totalitarian regimes, with a range of hybrid systems falling in between.