What Is Government?
Government is the institution responsible for establishing and enforcing laws and managing a nation or other political unit, such as a state. Its responsibilities include governing the economy, national defense and foreign affairs. Governments also have the power to tax their citizens and use those funds to provide services. The term government is used in a wide variety of ways, from the name of specific institutions to the description of a nation’s broader system of rule. The word is derived from the Latin verb gubernare, meaning “to steer a ship or a vessel.”
A government’s power to regulate access to certain resources is important because markets cannot always meet everyone’s needs. For example, private businesses are unable to produce enough of some goods or services in large quantities and at low prices to satisfy all people’s desires. Governments can help supply these goods and services, such as education, public transportation, parks, and health care.
The government also has the ability to enforce its decisions and impose its will on the citizenry by using force to punish those who disobey. While some may argue that the government is too powerful, others believe that it provides many vital services. In addition, the government is a necessary part of any civilized society.
Although there are different forms of governments, the majority of them are structured with a central bureaucracy headed by an executive branch and legislative and judicial branches, all of which have a specific set of responsibilities. The distribution of powers between the branches differs among governments and can vary over time as political systems evolve.
In the United States, for example, the Constitution mandates that all states must follow a republican form of government with three branches. Congress has a broad range of powers including raising revenue, declaring war and approving treaties. Its president has the right to veto legislation, and Congress can override presidential vetoes with two-thirds majorities of each house of Congress.
While the responsibilities of a government are universal, its methods of execution are as diverse as its constituents. Some of the main types of governments recognized in the modern world include democracy (direct or representative), monarchy, oligarchy, fascism, communism and socialism.
A key difference between the various forms of government is the way in which they obtain their power. For example, some democratic forms of government are based on electoral contests while others are hereditary. A third key distinction is between the various levels of government. The national level is often referred to as the “ladder” of government, with the state and local levels being the next rungs down. Lesson handouts are available for this lesson.