The Basics of Government
Government is the way people organize themselves in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that society as a whole needs. The goal of most governments is to protect citizens from danger, assure that basic services are available and help make sure that everyone receives fair access to those services. Governments also set laws that promote social and economic stability.
The form of government that most countries have can vary, but in general most governments have a legislature, an executive branch and a judiciary. The legislature makes, changes or repeals a country’s laws. The people who work in this branch are sometimes called lawmakers, although Americans use the term Congress to describe their group. Britons often call them MPs (members of parliament). Congress is a bicameral legislature, meaning it has two chambers. The smaller upper chamber is usually called the Senate and the larger lower chamber is known as the House of Representatives. The President, Vice President and Cabinet belong to the executive branch of government, which carries out the laws that Congress passes. The Supreme Court and other courts belong to the judicial branch, which judges whether laws are fair and constitutional.
The legislative, executive and judicial branches of government are designed to keep the power of the government from being too concentrated in the hands of a few people or from one group of people over another. This is called separation of powers and checks and balances. In the United States, for example, the Constitution limits the President’s powers and puts most of the executive branch’s power in the hands of Congress and the judicial branch. The President’s power is further limited by the fact that he must get both houses of Congress to approve his nominations for certain offices and he cannot start war without the approval of both houses. Congress must also approve peace treaties.
A government must provide a means for citizens to express their opinions and ideas to the leaders of the country, so that they can be sure that the decisions being made are fair and will serve the interests of the nation as a whole. Governments that respect the freedom of speech and the press are called democracies. They also have laws that protect citizens’ safety and the environment, ensure that citizens have health care and educational opportunities, and protect property.
Some governments are large, covering a large region or the entire world, while others are small and localized. The larger governments have more resources for providing services to their citizens, so they can afford to pay for things like schools and hospitals. Most of the world’s governments are democracies, while some are totalitarian regimes or monarchies. In democracies, the people choose their leaders by voting for them or allowing their representatives to vote for them. There are also some republics, which have national laws framed by the Constitution and allow each state or province to pass laws that don’t conflict with those laws.