What Is Government?

Government is the entity that sets rules and responsibilities for people and provides goods and services for its citizens. It is the institution that imposes taxes and passes budgets to determine how those revenues are to be used by local, state, and national governments. Government also protects common goods, those that are free for all but have limited availability (such as the fish in the sea or clean drinking water), to prevent a few people from taking everything that is available and leaving others with nothing. Government bodies are constantly searching for ways to harness ideas and resources to change the lives of their constituents for the better, but it is a difficult task.

There are many types of government, but the major classifications are democracies and totalitarian regimes with a wide variety of hybrid systems in between. There is also a growing movement toward governance by design, a form of government in which the decisions are made through deliberation amongst citizenry, rather than from elected leaders.

Throughout history, the concept of government has evolved in response to a variety of social and cultural conditions, economic organization, intellectual and philosophical influences, geographic or climate, and historical circumstance. Therefore, no two countries have identical governments.

In the past, most governments were hierarchical and centralized in power. Rulers, often called monarchs, ruled over a large population of people who worked and paid taxes to support them. This type of government is considered a tyranny because the rulers have no accountability to their subjects and are usually corrupt.

Modern democracies are based on the principle of popular sovereignty, which is that government powers should be derived from the people who are directly affected by those governments. There are several methods of determining who will govern, from direct democracy to theocracy, but the most commonly accepted method is the democratic republic.

A common complaint is that the business world is being hampered by excessive regulation and red tape, but some proponents of government argue that there are valid reasons for regulating businesses. For example, some argue that unregulated businesses have damaged the environment, abused labor and natural resources, violated antitrust laws, and committed other forms of unfair or predatory behavior. Governments also provide important public goods, such as military defense, mail service, and police and fire departments.

Despite the criticism, most people understand that their communities and lives would be worse without a stable, functioning government. This explains why most people want to participate in their government by voting and addressing issues through the bureaucracy. The most controversial issue of all, however, may be whether government should be responsible for providing social programs that alleviate some of the suffering in society. Examples of these are medical insurance and welfare. This is an ongoing debate in the United States, as it is in other nations. Some people think that these expensive programs undermine the moral responsibilities of individuals to care for their own well being.