The Functions of Government
A government (from the Latin gubernare – to steer or manage) is the body of people invested with the power to govern an organized community. It is also the mechanism by which organizational policies are determined and enforced. Governments normally have a kind of constitution that provides the principles and philosophy upon which they are based. A government may also have a set of laws, rules and regulations that guide how it operates.
At the state and local level, government provides a wide variety of valuable public goods and services such as schools, police departments and fire departments, roads and bridges, libraries and mail service. These are not things that can easily be produced and provided by the market because they require a large investment in infrastructure and the personnel needed to operate them. Private businesses would not make these kinds of investments because they do not benefit them in the long run. Government can do this because it has the ability to tax its citizens and raise funds in order to provide these important services.
One of the more important functions of government is national security. This requires the creation of an army, the development of plans for defense and attack, and the gathering of intelligence. Government is the only entity capable of doing these kinds of activities because it has the power to tax, draw on the resources of its citizenry, and compel citizen compliance.
Another important function of government is to protect its citizens from outside threats and to maintain peace within its borders. Governments can use their military and intelligence capabilities to do this because they can impose laws that prohibit the illegal transportation of weapons and terrorist activity, and create laws that criminalize certain activities. They can also use their ability to impose fines, jail time and the death penalty to deter criminals.
In addition, governments have the power to ensure that all citizens have access to essential public goods like water and air. Governments can prevent private businesses from polluting these resources by imposing regulations and providing laws that require them to clean up their facilities. Government can also regulate prices to prevent excessive price increases for these commodities. This protection is necessary because some people will try to take advantage of these common goods if they are not properly protected.
At the federal level, the powers of the United States government are outlined in the Constitution. The legislative branch of the Federal Government is composed of Congress (comprised of the House of Representatives and Senate) and the executive branch is comprised of the President and Federal agencies. The judicial branch of the Federal Government includes the Supreme Court and other Federal courts. These different branches work together in a system called checks and balances to prevent the Federal Government from becoming too powerful. If a law is passed by Congress that the President believes violates the Constitution, he or she can veto it.