The Basics of Government
A government is an institution through which leaders exercise power to make and enforce laws. Governments are found everywhere on Earth, though they may be very different in form and function from one another. Governments are organized in different ways, but they usually have a common structure: an executive branch that sets policy and oversees the other branches, a legislative branch that passes laws, and a judicial branch that interprets those laws. A government is usually ruled by a constitution, which provides the exact limits on its powers and defines how it can be changed. In many countries, a constitution can’t be changed unless voted on and approved by the citizens.
While most contemporary political thinkers agree that government should be constrained, there is significant disagreement about the exact limitations on its powers. For example, proponents of socialism believe that the government should provide services like education and healthcare for everyone, even if they cannot afford them on their own. Others, on the other hand, believe that the government should only regulate industries that are a threat to public health or the environment. For instance, they advocate that the Environmental Protection Agency should penalize businesses that pollute air and water.
In contrast, advocates of anarchism believe that the government should be abolished altogether. They argue that people can live in society with no central authority, provided they have secure property rights and a legal system that protects voluntary associations. However, there are some who see anarchism as an extreme view that can lead to chaos and violence.
Most Western nations are constitutional republics, which feature three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. A president is the head of the executive branch and appoints members of his or her cabinet. The legislative branch is responsible for passing laws, and it can veto legislation passed by the executive branch. The judicial branch interprets laws and judges cases that the other branches can’t resolve.
The US is a federal republic, which means that the nation’s most prominent leaders are seated in Washington DC, but that most of its day-to-day operations are left to the states and localities. State governments are responsible for upholding the national laws that Congress creates, but they also set their own rules and pass their own laws. Many state agencies carry out the functions that Congress delegates to them, like regulating industry and providing social assistance.
The framers of the US Constitution created the separation of powers to ensure that no single branch of the government can become too powerful. They designed the system so that politicians must compete with each other to enact policies, which prevents them from taking advantage of their position. Moreover, they also made sure that the judicial and legislative branches could check the executive branch by ensuring that all Supreme Court justices, judges of district courts, and judges of appeals have been nominated by the executive branch and confirmed by Congress.