The Basics of Government
Government establishes the rules and responsibilities of citizens, protects them from external threats and ensures their well-being. It does this by setting standards for everyday behavior, providing food and shelter and regulating the marketplace. Governments also create and impose taxes to raise money to fund programs and services. Some governments, such as the United States, allow citizens to choose their own representatives. Other governments, such as China and Iran, have state-appointed officials who make decisions for the people.
Governments also create and provide some goods that are not produced in enough quantity or at low enough prices by the private market. These are called public goods, and examples include national security and education. Government is able to provide these goods because it has the ability to tax, draw upon a nation’s resources, and compel citizen compliance.
Despite the benefits of government, some citizens disagree with its policies and actions. They may oppose the use of public funds to support social programs that they believe are not necessary or that undermine an individual’s responsibility for his or her own financial and personal welfare. Others may disagree with the extent to which law enforcement agencies are allowed to tap into citizens’ phone records and restrict what newspapers can publish. These debates are what give rise to a variety of different political systems.
A government consists of three major branches: the legislative, executive and judicial. The Framers of the Constitution designed the system so that each branch has “checks and balances” over the other two. For example, Congress makes laws, but the President can veto them and the Supreme Court decides whether they are constitutional. This system helps to limit the power of each branch and prevent it from acting in an arbitrary way.
In addition to making laws, the legislative branch also sets an annual budget for the government. This is done by imposing taxes on income and property or by allowing Congress to borrow money. Congress can also direct spending in specific areas, known as earmarks. These are bills that specify a specific project or agency, rather than simply a general amount of funding.
The executive branch carries out the policy developed by the legislature. It enforces the laws it makes and explains the laws it enacts. It also sets the amount of money that state departments and other agencies are allocated to fund their activities. This is known as the appropriations process.
The judicial branch interprets the laws and rules of procedure established by the other two branches. The judicial branch also decides whether or not a person has a constitutional right to access a record. It is important for the public to be able to understand the process of governmental decision-making and to have access to the documents and statistics that lead to those determinations. Without this information, the public cannot hold their government accountable. This is the basis of a free society.