The Role of Government
Governments have a variety of functions, but they share one central function: to protect citizens from harm. Governments do this by making laws and by providing services that people need but cannot provide for themselves. Governments also preserve the state against outside threats by forming armies, conducting intelligence activities, and preventing spies from entering or leaving the country.
The concept of government is complex, and it varies between countries. Some governments are democratic, allowing citizens to make decisions through elected representatives. Others are authoritarian, concentrating power in the hands of a few individuals or groups and leaving them largely unchecked. Many countries have hybrid models, with elements of democracy and authoritarianism.
Whether or not a particular form of government is good or bad depends on the goals it sets for itself. If a government is concerned with equality, for example, it may raise taxes and allocate them to such areas as education, public transportation, housing for the poor, and care of the elderly. It may also restrict how much law enforcement officers can intrude on private communications, and it will set limits on what a newspaper can publish.
A government is responsible for enforcing the rules of a society, defending the nation against external threats, and overseeing economic affairs. Governments also create and administer social policies, such as education, healthcare, and welfare. In addition, they provide services that individuals cannot or do not want to pay for themselves, such as military defense, roads, fire and police departments, and utilities. Governments raise money through taxes and other fees, charge for some of their services, and borrow to supplement their revenues.
While the roles of governments have changed over time, they remain important in a society. The earliest governments were concerned with protection of their people. Later, as civilizations developed, government took on the added responsibility of preserving the citizens’ property and security and providing essential services that individuals could not otherwise afford.
There are many ways for citizens to influence the direction of their governments, from local government councils and school boards to city, state, and federal legislators and courts. The Framers of the United States constitution designed a system of separation of powers, checks and balances, that gives citizens many opportunities to shape legislation as it moves through Congress, the president’s office, or the Supreme Court.
Governments are the defenders of our rights and freedoms. They ensure that the wealthy do not take advantage of the weaker members of society, and they help to prevent monopolies and unfair competition. Governments also provide goods and services that are “non-excludable” and “non-rivaling,” or that everyone would benefit from but cannot get for themselves, such as national defense and education. This concept is also known as the public goods theory.