Posted on

The Role of Government


Government is the mechanism through which leaders of a political unit—whether a nation, state or township—exercise power and make laws. The purpose of government is to help people live together peacefully. Governments also protect citizens from external threats and provide basic goods like food, shelter and water. Governments can also create laws that set standards for education, health care, and business. Governments often use force to enforce their rules. The term government has a variety of meanings depending on context and culture. It can refer to the institution that runs a school board, city council or other municipal authority, or it can refer to a national or state bureaucracy—such as the Department of Defense or the Environmental Protection Agency.

The idea of government is as old as civilized society. But concepts about what it should look like, how it should be organized, and the ways it can perform have changed over time. Each country has a unique government reflecting its own environment, history and political ideals. There are many different forms of government—democracies, totalitarian regimes and authoritarian systems all have their place in modern classification schemes.

The role of government is to establish and enforce laws, secure its nation’s borders, ensure public safety and economic security, provide social services, maintain a healthy natural environment, educate citizens and foster a culture of freedom. These are goals that cannot be achieved through markets alone, and government is the only entity that can tax citizens to raise funds for these purposes and compel people to obey laws.

Because of this, government has a fundamental role in human civilization. But it is important to understand that governments are not inherently good or bad, nor are they always effective. The best governments are those that balance the needs of all groups. Governments that have a clear goal of benefiting all citizens are called democratic. Governments that are centralized, with a few rulers who control everything, are called autocratic. Governments that seek only their own advantage are called oligarchies.

Most governments provide citizens with a means to participate in the process of making decisions about their lives through the ballot box, which is a democratic principle. In Western democracies, governments protect citizens’ right to free speech and the press, as well as their right to vote.

The Framers of the American Constitution established a system of separation of powers and checks and balances in order to keep any one branch of government from becoming too powerful. They argued that it was impossible to make politicians angels who would never seek more power than they should have, so the best way to limit ambition was to divide responsibilities among multiple branches of the government. In this way, a president who disagreed with the policies of Congress could work to get those policies changed. Similarly, if a law was passed that a citizen disagreed with, the person could try to persuade the president to veto it. This gave citizens many opportunities to influence policy as it traveled through the legislative process.