The Basics of Government

A government is a group of people that have the power to rule over some territory. This territory can be a whole country, a province or a state within a country, or it may be a township, city, county or community. Governments make laws and rules, collect taxes, print money, and have a monopoly on the legal use of force to make sure people obey the laws. Governments provide benefits for their citizens, such as education and health care. Governments can be democratic, authoritarian, totalitarian or some combination of the three.

In a democracy, citizens form a participatory governing body and elect representatives or delegates to represent them. They vote on each issue and deliberate together as a group, to decide how to govern. The term government can also be used to refer to a particular political system, such as direct democracy, aristocracy, timocracy, plutocracy or oligarchy.

The goals of government vary according to the type of governmental system and the needs of the society it serves. Governments often seek to accomplish collective goals, such as economic prosperity for the nation and security of the national borders, while providing benefits for their citizens, such as health care and education.

Governments are usually organized into three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. The legislative branch, which includes the Senate and the House of Representatives, makes laws. The President, as the head of the executive branch, signs the bills into law and has many other responsibilities. The judicial branch, including the Supreme Court and lower courts, hears and makes decisions on cases.

The primary functions of the judicial branch are to ensure that government officials do not abuse their power and to punish those who violate the rights of others. In addition, the judicial branch is responsible for interpreting and applying the law. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has a special role to interpret the Constitution and other Federal laws.

At the State level, representatives elected by the people allocate funding for State colleges and universities, maintenance of state roads and bridges, wildlife management and other priorities for the State. The Federal government has many agencies that carry out its day-to-day responsibilities, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Congressional Budget Office helps determine which agencies to fund.

Governments also protect certain goods that all people may enjoy free of charge, but are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean air and water. They also protect services that are valuable to all, such as mail service, police departments and fire departments that do not require payment for their work. Moreover, governments protect freedoms, such as the right to own property and speak freely. They also encourage the development of competing political parties to give citizens choices and a voice in their government.