The Role of Government
Government is the entity that provides rules and responsibilities for citizens, protects them from outside interference, and often helps provide for their well-being and happiness. People have varying opinions on what role government should play, but most people agree that it should be there to prevent criminal activity, protect the environment, and respond to disasters. Government also redistributes income by taking money from some people in the economy (income taxes) and paying it to other people who are not working or may be unemployed (welfare benefits like unemployment insurance, social security and medicare).
Many people are concerned that the role of government is getting too large. This concern is not based on the size of government but rather on the amount of power it has. Regardless of what system of government exists, there is usually some form of separation of powers that limits the amount of power any one person or group of people has. This includes a system of checks and balances, where if a law is passed that citizens disagree with, they can work to change it.
Governments exist at the local, state, and federal level and are funded through tax dollars. People who live in an area pay taxes that fund the things that help them, including schools, roads, fire departments, police departments, mail services, and national parks. Government agencies also create laws that regulate the activities of businesses and people, and enforce those laws through courts and prisons.
The most important function of government is providing stability and security for its citizens. Governments at all levels have armed forces such as police and fire departments to protect the public from crime, natural disasters, and other threats. In addition, governments help their citizens through social programs like education, healthcare, and food assistance. The responsibilities of government are very varied, and this is why it is important to have separation of powers and checks and balances in the design of any political system.
Governments have evolved from being primarily enforcers of the law and caretakers of their citizens into entities that manage externalities, drive economic growth, distribute revenue, oversee the federal budget, and provide social security. Understanding these evolving roles is important to understanding why governments are necessary for society.