The Basics of Government
Government is a system of people who control and direct the affairs of a city, town, state or country. Its basic function is to provide citizens with the services they need. Governments use taxes, laws and regulation to ensure that they can carry out their functions. Governments also help protect common goods that everyone may use but that are in limited supply, such as the fish in the sea or clean drinking water. These are called public goods.
Almost every place on Earth has some form of government. The only places that are without government are small, remote areas where people follow traditions instead of rules, and the continent of Antarctica, which has no inhabitants. In most places, governments at the local, county, state and national levels collect money from their citizens through taxes and other sources to pay for things such as schools, roads, libraries, defense, healthcare and welfare. Those agencies then distribute the funds to the areas they serve.
In the United States, federal government spending is divided into two major categories: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory spending includes programs like Social Security and Medicare, military spending, law enforcement and national parks. Congress sets the rules for these types of programs in the annual appropriations process and determines how much to spend. The other category of federal spending is called discretionary, which means it’s up to Congress to decide how to spend the money it has collected from its constituents.
When Congress sets its budget for the year, it explains what services it will provide, how it will pay for them and how it will manage its finances, including its debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) then constructs the “baseline” projections for how these costs will grow over time, taking into account expected economic changes and other factors that are not controlled by Congress. In most years, federal spending exceeds tax revenue, so the government runs a deficit, which is financed by borrowing.
Governments are organized differently and have different functions, but they all share some characteristics. The most important are: Majority rule with minority rights: Decisions are made based on what the majority wants, but the opinions of minorities are respected. A bill of rights: All people have certain fundamental rights, such as freedom and equality. Competition between political parties: Rival parties are needed so that voters have choices. The ability to enforce these principles requires authority over vast distances, a large army and the collection of taxes to pay for it all. That is why the development of government has always been closely tied to the growth of civilization. Governments have evolved into many forms, including democracy, autocracy, tyranny and communism. The most common modern forms of government are democracies and totalitarian regimes, with a variety of hybrids between these. The word government comes from the Latin term gubernare, meaning to steer a ship or boat. It can also refer to the governing body of a State, often described as the executive branch of the government.