The Role of Government


Government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally called a country. Governments are distinguished by their legal authority over a region and the rights of their citizens, as well as the degree to which they represent the interests of their people. Governments also differ in the ways they organize their institutions and enact laws. In addition, they vary in their political ideology and philosophy. Government is a complex topic and the debate over its role is ongoing.

Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher and political theorist, described the basic function of government as protecting its citizenry from violence by imposing law and order and preventing wars. This concept of government is the oldest and remains perhaps the most common justification for its existence. Governments can enforce laws and prevent wars because they have the power to compel compliance. They have the authority to punish individuals for crimes and to confiscate property. Governments can also protect property rights by limiting the power of monopolies and addressing negative side effects for third parties such as pollution.

Another role of government is providing goods and services that the market cannot provide at a low cost. Examples include national security, education and health care. Governments can offer these public goods because they have the resources to create them and can levy taxes on citizens to pay for them. Governments are also able to address problems such as pollution, crime and poverty because they can collect information about the needs of their citizens and use that data to create programs designed to meet those needs.

In the United States, there is a long tradition of government-provided social programs like national medical insurance and welfare benefits. These are expensive ventures that require a large amount of taxpayer money. Many Americans are skeptical of these programs and believe that the government should not spend so much on them, while others argue that it is not fair to leave poor people without the help they need to survive.

Even though the United States leans toward a market economy, governments still play an important role in the economic life of its citizens. At all levels of the government, representatives elected by the people allocate funds to the priorities that will best serve their constituents. At the state level, this includes funding for state universities, roads and infrastructure. At the federal level, this includes defense spending, Social Security and Medicare and managing national parks and other natural resources. When these sources of revenue are not sufficient to cover expenditures, government entities can borrow money by selling bonds to the public.