The Role of Government
Government is the means by which a society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that society as a whole needs. It can take many forms, but the common characteristics are that it is an organized entity invested with the power to manage a political unit, such as a state or nation, and that it has substantial autonomy.
A government has a number of responsibilities that citizens expect it to perform, including maintaining peace and public safety, protecting private property, providing education and health care, and ensuring that all citizens have access to the goods and services they need. Governments also have a role in solving problems that the market cannot solve on its own, such as protecting people from disease or weather extremes, and addressing negative side effects of markets such as pollution.
In the United States, there are three levels of government: the national government (the federal government) focuses on things like immigration and foreign affairs, while the state governments take care of things like taxes and law enforcement. The local governments, such as city, town and county councils, take care of things like public schools and utilities. The national, state and local governments all work together to set laws and carry them out. Each level of government has its own responsibilities and has some exclusive powers.
The United States is a representative democracy, which means that a few people out of all the citizens are elected to make the decisions for the whole country. This group is known as Congress. It includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House and Senate each have specific exclusive powers, such as approving (giving “advice and consent”) presidential appointments of department secretaries, Supreme Court nominees, and members of the military and naval officers.
While a few of these exclusive powers may be transferred from one level of government to another, the majority of power is kept by the central government in Washington. The President and other executive branch officials work with the Congress to make the laws. The Supreme Court and other federal courts evaluate the legality of the laws.
The ability of government to provide social programs for its citizens is one of the most controversial topics in our society today. Some people argue that these programs are too expensive and take away from individual responsibility. Others believe that the government should be responsible for helping all of its citizens.
While the role of government is a complex subject, most Americans have come to expect that their national and local governments provide a wide range of valuable services. Many of these services are free or nearly free, such as clean water and a stable currency system. Other important services, such as police protection and fire departments, are paid for by taxpayer dollars. When these services are provided reliably for long periods of time, they tend to be taken for granted.