The Basics of Government
Government is an organization through which leaders make and enforce laws, provide services, provide national security, and more. Governments take on different forms depending on what kind of society they are governing. Governments are often categorized as democracies, totalitarian regimes, and authoritarian governments, though many combine elements from more than one of these types.
Most government agencies have a set of goals that they work to accomplish. These include things like providing basic services, such as roads and schools, fostering economic prosperity, preserving the environment, and keeping people safe. They also often have a set of principles they value, such as majority rule with minority rights, accountability of officials to the people, checks and balances, freedom of speech and press, economic equality, and more.
Getting these things done requires money. That’s why government taxes and fees are usually in place—to raise funds for the things that society needs. Local, state, and federal governments each have their own priorities for spending. For example, local government may spend money on public schools, roads, and parks. State government might prioritize the maintenance of its colleges and universities, while federal agencies focus on things like defense, Social Security, and maintaining national parks. Representatives elected by the people try to secure funding for things they think are important, and they do this by arguing in favor of their causes.
Another way that the government keeps its promises is through oversight and regulation. Governments regulate industries to protect the environment, safety, and the economy. For example, the government passes laws that prevent businesses from emitting toxic gases into the air or putting unsafe products on the market. It also sets standards for the safety and reliability of products, including cars and food. Governments also regulate the way companies operate, by requiring them to disclose how much profit they’re making and whether they’re paying their employees well enough.
In the United States, Congress is a coequal branch of the government, along with the executive and judicial branches. The President has the power to veto bills Congress passes, but Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. Congress also has a number of oversight tools, such as the Government Accountability Office, which audits the budgets and financial statements that all government agencies submit to Congress.
The term government comes from a Greek word meaning “rule.” It is the system by which societies organize and allocate authority for common purposes. Governments come in all shapes and sizes, from dictatorships to dynasties and from oligarchies to communism. But all governments share the same core duties of leadership and protection. The kind of government that is most successful depends on the values and needs of a society. For example, a democratic republic places a high priority on the rights and interests of citizens—which means ensuring that all voices are heard in the political process, and protecting individuals from unjust treatment and abuse. In other words, the goal of government is to govern for the people.