The Basics of Government

Government is the system of rules for a nation, state or other political unit. It is responsible for the laws of society, defense, foreign affairs, the economy and public services. It can be one of many forms, such as a direct democracy, a representative democracy, socialism, communism, an oligarchy, or a monarchy. Government is usually organized into legislatures, executive bodies and judiciaries. It can also be divided into sub-groups, such as ministries and agencies. Governments often have a constitution, which sets out the principles and philosophy of the organization.

Those who believe in laissez-faire economics and the free market argue that governments should not interfere with the business of private enterprise. But critics argue that businesses have damaged the environment, abused workers, and defrauded consumers in their pursuit of profits. They advocate the need for laws to protect consumers, regulate pollution and safety hazards, prevent monopolies, ensure labor equality, and protect the rights of children, minorities, and the elderly.

Most people agree that a government should provide basic services for its citizens, such as police and fire departments, schools, public libraries, transportation systems, and health care. Some of these services require substantial tax revenues. Governments can raise taxes in a variety of ways, including income and sales taxes, value-added taxes, and tariffs. Governments can also borrow money to finance these expenditures. The amount of funding a government spends and its priorities are determined by the citizens through the political process.

A major source of funding for these activities is the federal budget, which Congress legislates each year for multiple years. The budget includes spending on education; research, development, and demonstration projects; maintenance of roads, bridges, and airports; wildlife management; public health and nutrition programs; and a host of other items. A small percentage of the budget goes to international programs, such as humanitarian aid and maintaining U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

The federal budget also includes mandatory spending, which is lawfully obligated by Congress for specific purposes. Mandatory spending includes Social Security, Medicare and other health insurance programs for retirees; welfare benefits for low-income Americans; subsidized school lunches; public education grants; housing for the poor; and a wide array of public works projects. It also includes military spending, defense contracts, and foreign aid. A smaller portion of the budget supports a range of national and international security programs, such as surveillance and other activities that are necessary for the protection of people and property. It may also include funds for maintaining and operating the federal courts and prisons. This budget is largely dictated by a variety of factors, including public opinion and competing political ideology.