What Is Government?

Government is the system through which adults make the rules and laws that all people must live by. It also judges any conflicts between different sets of rules. Government is found at all levels of society, from the school board to the city council to the country. The word government comes from the Latin phrase gubernare, which means “steer the ship or vessel.”

People decide how their governments will be organized by voting for people to run their government. These people are called politicians. The United States has a government made up of three branches: the legislative branch, which makes laws and takes the form of the United States Congress; the executive branch, which carries out laws and consists of the President, Vice President, and cabinet; and the judicial branch, which interprets laws and evaluates whether they are constitutional.

The Constitution created a system in which these branches have different jobs and can only work together when necessary. This is called a check and balance, because the different branches of government limit each other’s power. This helps to keep politicians from being too powerful.

A government can also create and regulate common goods, like public schools, fire departments, or natural resources. Common goods are things that everyone can use, but that must be limited because they have a finite supply. When too many people take too much from the supply, there won’t be any for others to use. A government can control access to these goods by limiting how much people can use them or by charging for them.

Local government is a key part of any community. Cities, towns, and villages have their own governments that provide recreational, educational, and social services to the residents. A city’s government may also oversee budgeting for civic projects and development; enact and enforce ordinances that must be in compliance with state laws; and provide law enforcement services. Cities may also have municipal courts that hear low-level criminal cases and civil disputes, and the courts can transfer cases to higher-level district, circuit, or Supreme Courts as needed.

Government can also make decisions about who gets to benefit from tax dollars, and decide what kind of government services are needed in the community. Some governments provide services that are not taxable, including food stamps and disability benefits. Governments can also help families save for retirement or pay for college by using tax dollars to provide those benefits.

Governments are organized differently throughout the world, and some are not functioning at all. The world’s countries are divided into groups called nations, and they often share a culture and language. They can be led by a monarch, emperor, or other leader; by an elected president or parliament; or by a military regime. The most common type of nation is a democracy, and it is estimated that more than half the world’s population lives in democratic countries. The remainder of the world’s people live in nondemocratic countries, mainly in areas that were historically conquered by imperial powers or are disputed territory.