The Functions of Government
The government is the body or entity that is invested with the power to manage a political unit, organization or more often a State. Governments are constituted in a variety of ways, including monarchy, oligarchy, democracy (direct and representative), autocracy and socialism. Each kind of government is characterized by its unique combination of attributes, characteristics and functions.
A primary function of government is to provide goods and services that the market cannot do. These are called public goods, and they include national security, education, and health care. The private sector cannot provide these goods in a manner that is affordable and sustainable. Governments can do this because they are able to tax citizens and draw upon resources from the whole population. They are also able to protect the interests of citizens through armed forces, police departments and courts of law.
Government is also able to regulate access to certain natural resources like land, water and wildlife. This is because these resources are not renewable, and the market cannot easily increase their supply as demand rises. Governments can make laws to limit how much people take from these resources, and they can impose penalties for taking too much.
Many governments, especially democracies, also offer citizens a way to express their opinions and views on policy issues through elections. For example, in the United States, the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech and to vote for representatives. Many countries have similar rights. Governments can regulate freedom of the press as well, and many have supreme courts that hear appeals from lower-level state courts.
In addition to providing these essential goods and services, most governments promote the development of their economies by providing a stable environment for business investment. They can also provide benefits to their citizens, such as food, housing and health care. The types of benefits offered by governments vary greatly by country and by type of government.
One of the most important functions of government is to set and enforce the rules of society. For example, most governments prohibit the sale of tobacco products to children and require drivers to have automobile insurance. Governments set standards for education, and they enforce criminal and civil laws. Governments can also enact trade agreements with other countries.
Governments have existed for thousands of years. During this time, concepts about what governments should do and how they should be formed have changed. Abraham Lincoln, for example, spoke of a “government of the people” and Henry David Thoreau wrote that “those who govern best are those who govern least.” Today’s ideas about government reflect many different influences, including social and cultural conditions, economic organization, intellectual and philosophical influences, geography or climate, and historical circumstance. As a result, no two governments are exactly alike. This is reflected in the wide variety of government structures and political systems that exist around the world.