The word “government” comes from the Latin for “rule.” Governments at the national, state, and local levels set the rules for society. They protect people and property, handle foreign affairs, control the economy, and provide social services. Governments also make sure that the laws are followed.
Governments have been around for thousands of years, but they don’t all look or act the same. Some are democratic, allowing citizens to elect their leaders; others are authoritarian, with only a few powerful people in charge. Still others combine elements of both democratic and authoritarian models, resulting in governments that limit some freedoms but also protect people.
Most people think of government as a group of people who take care of things like roads, crime, and sanitation. But this is only part of the story. The more important thing is that government creates and enforces the laws that govern us all, making sure they are applied fairly. It does this through agencies, committees, and commissions, as well as through elected representatives, appointed officials, and the courts.
In a democracy, the majority makes decisions in order to ensure that all people’s views are represented and the rights of minorities are protected. In addition, government tries to keep its citizens safe and provides them with public goods like education, police protection, and mail service. Government also takes care of some hard-to-solve problems, like dealing with natural disasters and fighting wars.
At the national level, the three coequal branches of the United States federal government share responsibilities for creating and enforcing the laws of the land. Congress is responsible for establishing an annual budget. To do this, it levies taxes and tariffs and approves spending bills called appropriations. Congress sometimes passes temporary funding measures known as continuing resolutions, which extend the level of appropriations from one year to the next.
State and local government work with communities to provide many of the same kinds of public goods that are provided at the national level, including public education, transportation, health care, and law enforcement. Government is also responsible for providing security and stability, both in the form of a military and other emergency services. Governments at all levels try to meet these needs by balancing the benefits of taxation with other forms of revenue, such as user fees, and by employing various methods for delivering public goods and services. This includes direct service programs, such as fire departments and police departments, which don’t ask for payment before putting out a fire or stopping an intruder. It also includes a safety net of food, housing, and medical care for those who need it. This helps to ensure that everyone has a chance to live in peace and prosperity. Throughout the country, citizens depend on their government to maintain these vital services. They also depend on their government to be transparent and accountable with the citizenry, so that people are aware of governmental activities. This is known as open government.