What Is a Government?


A government is a system of people, laws and officials that define and control the country that you live in. Governments make rules that govern what happens in public life and can regulate private activities as well. They are also responsible for providing services that society needs. The most obvious service governments provide are national defense and public education. They may also be responsible for welfare and social programs that help people get out of poverty. These services are controversial, but most Americans believe the government should be able to help those who need it through job placement and money to buy food or medicine.

Another important role of the government is protecting common goods, those that all people can use but are in limited supply such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water. These things must be protected so that a few individuals don’t take all the available resources and leave others with nothing. Governments can be a very efficient provider of these goods, because they are able to scale up production to meet the need and can use taxes to pay for the resources they need.

Governments must be able to decide what values to support and which economic and social policies to pursue. The process of political debate and citizen input helps determine these issues. For example, if the government believes in individualism and promoting private enterprise, it will loosen regulations on businesses and cut taxes to encourage citizens to invest in companies. However, if the government supports egalitarianism and eliminating socioeconomic inequalities, it will increase taxes to fund education, housing for the poor and care for the elderly.

The government must also protect negative externalities that cannot be addressed by markets, such as overfishing and global warming. It must also balance the demands of different groups for access to certain natural resources like water and land. Governments can do this by creating conservation groups that manage resources and set standards for limiting human activity in order to protect these resources.

While the exact definition of government varies from place to place, all governments have similar functions. They must create and enforce the rules that a society follows, they must be able to defend their borders against invasion and they must have the power to punish those who break the law. Governments can do this by establishing a constitution, which is a set of fundamental laws that establish the country or state’s legal structure.

In addition, governments must provide for the general welfare of their citizens by ensuring the security of their lives, providing healthcare and education, protecting them from natural disasters and terrorist attacks, responding to environmental problems and preventing crime. These are all duties that the American government is responsible for and most Americans feel it does a good job at. However, Americans are split over how the government should handle other issues such as managing immigration and addressing poverty. The United States and other Western democracies also protect their citizens’ freedom of speech and press.