Government refers to the institution through which a society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that the society as a whole needs. The goals that governments seek to accomplish include economic prosperity for the nation, security of national borders, and safety and well-being of citizens. Governments also provide goods and services that are not available in the free market and cannot be produced by private businesses in large enough quantity or at low enough costs to meet all of the people’s needs, such as education, health care, and infrastructure for transportation.
Most of the time, when people talk about “government” they are referring to their local, state, or federal government. However, there are many different types of government in the world, and they all do a similar thing: regulate what happens in public life, and enforce laws to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Traditionally, the term government has been used to describe all the institutions, processes, and personnel that govern a nation. Government includes the military, courts, and bureaucracy, among others. Governments come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have a few things in common: they are made up of elected officials who make decisions for the community, and they must be accountable to the citizens. Governments also have the power to tax citizens in order to raise funds for important activities.
The most important characteristic of a government is its power to legislate. That is, to make laws that determine the way a community must function, and the standards by which individuals must live. The earliest theories of the origin of government suggest that it developed as a means of protecting people from each other. It is possible that people realized that they were safer if they stayed together in groups, and that some members of the group should have more power than others. This recognition gave rise to the concept of sovereignty, or the right of a group to self-govern without interference from other groups.
In general, governments have the ability to tax citizens in order to raise money for essential services such as education, police and fire departments, and maintenance of roads and sidewalks. Local, state, and national governments pass laws to establish tax rates and set the amounts that will be collected from each citizen. Governments also draft budgets that specify how the money collected will be used.
It is not easy to define a type of government. Several terms are used to describe various forms of government, but they all have ambiguities and limitations. These terms include monarchy (government of one), aristocracy (government of a select ruling class), oligarchy (government of the wealthy few), and democracy (government by the people).
It is not unusual for government to withhold information in order to protect the privacy of the individual. However, a public right exists to know about the process of decision-making in a government, and it is improper for any institution to hide or restrict access to this information behind claims of confidentiality or secrecy.