Government, from the Greek kubernan, means “to steer” or “to govern.” It is the set of principles and institutions that exercise control over a country, state, city, corporation, organization or group of people. Governments make and enforce laws, and determine social and economic policies. They are the entities that provide stability and goods, services, and security for a region or a society. Governments also establish and maintain the rules that govern civil behavior, commerce, and industry. Governments may regulate and oversee a wide variety of activities, including banking, agriculture, transportation, education and health care. Different governments have many different goals and priorities that determine which types of policies they will pursue. These include a desire to support an ideal such as individualism or a preference for egalitarianism. In the United States, for example, government is concerned with supporting the values of free market capitalism and reducing socioeconomic inequalities. This leads to the forming of regulations that will support business and the imposition of taxes to raise money for government programs.
Governments also have a crucial role in protecting “common” goods, or those that are shared by all, such as fish in the sea and clean water. They also protect private goods, which are owned and controlled by individuals but in limited supply, such as property rights to land and houses. Governments can protect these assets by creating laws that prohibit infringements of private property rights, and by using police and military forces to prevent the illegal transfer of public or private property.
Different political philosophies, from anarchism to Marxism, hold different views on the need for government and how it should be structured. Some are against the idea of having a government at all, while others advocate the existence of a central authority, or a federation of nation states, that will share certain responsibilities and duties.
One theory, on which both democracy and most forms of socialism are based, is that governments were created by the people in order to serve their needs. This theory is often expressed in terms of a “social contract” that the people entered into with their rulers. This agreement stipulates that the people give up some of their freedom in return for the protection of their lives, liberty and property from tyranny.
Governments are characterized by how they distribute their power among the various levels of their institutions. The most common form of government is a representative republic, in which the citizens of a country elect representatives to create and vote on new laws and public policy for them. The most common representatives are members of Congress, governors and mayors. The government’s budget is also determined by these elected officials and includes the amount of taxation that will be imposed to fund the various services that the government provides for its citizens, such as schooling, police and fire departments, roads and bridges, hospitals, and so forth.