What Is Government?


Government is a body that works to effectively and successfully guide a unit or community, and one of its primary tasks is setting policy. Governments do this by using customs, laws and institutions to exercise political, executive and sovereign power with the intent of managing a state of well being that benefits all aspects of society. Governments often have a system of justice that lists the acts that are against the law and describes the punishments for violating them. Governments also have a police force to ensure that people follow the rules.

Governments levy taxes and tariffs to finance their operations. They may borrow money to make up the difference if they cannot collect enough revenue. Governments regulate industry to protect consumers, workers, the environment and the economy. They provide social services like education, public transportation, postal delivery and food stamps. They maintain public parks and wildlife preserves. They protect citizens and property through the military, police and fire departments. They maintain the infrastructure that supports a society, including the roads, bridges and water systems. They also provide a safety net of social services and financial support to those in need, such as unemployment compensation, welfare, pensions and healthcare (Figure 1.1).

A variety of people have varying views about the purpose of government. Some believe that it is a tool to solve the world’s biggest problems, such as poverty, crime and climate change. Others view it as a source of stability and security, noting that governments provide essential services like the military, police and fire departments, and the courts, highways and schools that keep communities safe and functioning.

There are many different forms of government in the world, and they can be classified by a variety of criteria, including how the power is obtained, what the system of laws looks like, and whether it has a constitution that sets its philosophy. The main types of modern political systems are democracies and totalitarian regimes, with a wide array of hybrid governments in between. Other common systems include monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies and timocracies.

Regardless of how a government is organized, all have a set of core principles that they are based upon. Some of these include separation of powers, checks and balances, and a system that allows citizens to influence the process of policymaking through voting and lobbying. Some countries also have a constitution, which sets the philosophical foundation of their government and can be interpreted in various ways by the nation’s people and its leaders. In addition, all governments provide at least some level of protection for the freedoms of speech and press, the right to vote, and equality under the law. These principles are fundamental to the functioning of democracy, even if they are not universally implemented.