Governments set rules for citizens to live within, protect them from outside interference and, in some cases, provide for their well-being. There is no one-size-fits-all model for governments, but they must be formed to meet the specific needs of society.
The basic principle of any form of government is majority rule with respect for the opinions of minorities and individuals. It is also necessary for checks and balances to limit the power of the government. In addition, citizens must have the ability to change their government through elections and recall votes.
Depending on the political system, government may have powers to regulate or prohibit activities, enforce laws and collect taxes, for example. Governments also have the responsibility to solve collective action problems that cannot be solved by market forces alone, such as environmental regulations that punish companies for polluting the air and water.
In the United States, federal laws are created by the legislative branch of government, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Legislative bills that are approved by both chambers become laws, although the president may veto certain legislation. The executive branch implements the laws passed by Congress, and it is made up of multiple departments headed by secretaries, who are appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. The judicial branch interprets the law, and the Supreme Court is responsible for ensuring that laws are applied fairly and impartially.
At the local level, city councils are elected by their constituents to create city ordinances, oversee budgets for civic projects and develop recreational, educational and social services for the community. They are also responsible for creating and maintaining municipal parks, building and operating fire and police departments and regulating interstate and international commerce. In addition, they have the authority to establish taxing and spending policies. The judicial branch of local government is the municipal court system, which handles low-level criminal and civil violations. Cases that violate state laws can be escalated to higher-level district, circuit or state supreme courts.
At the highest level, countries that are considered republics are governed under a constitution. In a republic, the rights and responsibilities of the people are established by the Constitution. The president, vice president and members of the Supreme Court are all elected by the people. The Constitution provides the framework for all national laws and the responsibilities of the people to govern themselves in a democratic manner. A republic also promotes economic freedom by establishing secure property rights, protecting private ownership of business and encouraging the development of markets through taxes and limiting import duties. It also imposes laws against monopolies to ensure that free trade is possible. By promoting property rights and the rule of law, a republic fosters voluntary exchange, which increases wealth in society. By contrast, nations without a written constitution tend to have lower standards of living.