The Role of Government
Government is a system of rules that controls people and ensures their rights are protected. It also provides for the well-being and happiness of its citizens. Governments have many roles: They create laws, protect people from outside interference and provide services such as education, healthcare, roads and defense. They may also redistribute wealth. Governments can be classified according to who has the authority to rule: one person (an autocracy), a small group of people (an aristocracy) or the people as a whole (a democracy). Governments can be organized at different levels, with the national level being the top of the ladder and local and state governments being the next two rungs, explains the U.S. Constitution’s Framers. The Constitution establishes three separate branches of government: the legislative (makes the law), executive (enforces the law) and judicial (interprets the law). The Framers knew that making any one branch too powerful caused big problems, so they set up a system of checks and balances.
Governments may have different methods of maintaining their status and legitimacy, such as secrecy, claiming support from deities, promoting nationalism, using police and military forces (particularly in autocracies) and providing benefits to elites. They may also limit their power by creating constitutions and laws, appealing to the people’s conscience, redistributing wealth and engaging in social engineering.
There is a strong economic role for government in a market economy: Government policies may address environmental concerns, define property rights, make markets more competitive and redistribute income. Governments may even use force to reallocate wealth when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. However, the government must be careful not to overuse this power as doing so will increase the costs and reduce the overall wealth of society.
In addition to providing services, government policies often regulate access to common goods, such as natural resources and wildlife. These cannot be freely taken from a finite pool by everyone at the same time, so government must protect these goods from too much private use.
It is important to remember that a government’s decisions are always based on what the people want and need. That is why the Constitution stipulates that each branch must consult with the others before passing laws, explains James Madison in Federalist No. 51. If politicians can’t trust one another, they won’t be able to work together for the good of the country. The resulting government will be inefficient and corrupt. For this reason, the Framers created the system of checks and balances that we still have today. Unlike in the past, we know that not all politicians are angels who won’t seek more power than they should, so it is best to structure the system in such a way that they must compete with each other. It’s the only practical way to counter ambition. Achieving this will require constant attention to the Constitution and a vigilance against corruption. It will also require a great deal of voter education to keep the power in the hands of the people.