Government is the institution through which a state, community, or society exercises control over its members and their actions. It may be a centralized authority or an informal association of people who organize themselves for purposes such as maintaining law and order, providing food, education, infrastructure, and health care, and achieving other collective goals. Governments are usually organized at the local, regional, and national levels. The word “government” is derived from the Latin word for administration, and a broad definition of governance includes a variety of political systems that are often associated with this term, including democracies, totalitarian regimes, and other authoritarian forms.
Governments make laws to maintain peace and order and ensure the fair operation of the business marketplace, among other things. For example, Congress passes laws regulating banking and regulates such issues as the amount of toxic gases that can be emitted by factories, the safety of cars and toys, and the purity of foods offered for sale. Government agencies also protect citizens by ensuring the freedom of speech and press, providing security against crime, and allowing citizens to vote for their elected representatives.
At the national level, the United States government allocates funds for such priorities as defense, maintenance of the nation’s roads and bridges, and management of national parks. Funding is obtained through taxes and user fees, such as those charged for entry into certain national parks. Federal spending is divided into two categories: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory spending represents more than two-thirds of the annual budget and does not require an annual appropriations vote by Congress. Discretionary spending accounts for the rest of the federal budget.
In general, people want their government to provide goods and services they need but cannot obtain on their own, such as national defense, educational opportunities, social welfare benefits, and protection from crime. These are known as public goods, and people tend to believe that they can best be supplied by government rather than private enterprises because governments can impose taxes, draw on the resources of the entire nation, and compel citizen compliance.
Governments must be able to communicate with the public in order to inform and educate them about what their government is doing. To do this, they must be able to collect and analyze information about the people who live in their countries and regions. Using this information, they can design programs to address the most urgent needs of their citizens. In addition, they need to keep citizens informed about their own governments through the media and in person. This is a vital component of democratic governance and enables citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for their decisions. Governments can accomplish this by establishing the rules and procedures for their institutions and by sharing information with journalists and citizens. In the United States, for instance, citizens can contact their elected representatives through a variety of methods, including telephone and email. They can also protest to their local, state, and federal governments by attending events such as town hall meetings and rallies.