The Role of Government


Government is the system by which people control their country and make national decisions. The word also refers to the group of people that run this system, or more specifically, the people who work in the executive branch of government (the President and about 5,000 workers) and the legislative branch of government (the Senate and House of Representatives). The term may also be used in other ways—for example, when referring to laws that govern how a country is operated, the “rules” of a government.

Governments are responsible for creating rules that limit citizens’ behavior and protect them from outside interference or from harming each other. They create taxes that fund their responsibilities and spend those funds to provide services for their people. The exact rules governments make can vary greatly, depending on the ideology of those running the government. If, for example, a government is dedicated to egalitarianism, it will likely promote policies that ensure equal opportunities for all and prevent socioeconomic inequalities. It might also authorize the tapping of phones or restrict what newspapers can publish if it is committed to national security.

These broad beliefs about government form the foundation for democracy and other forms of popular rule. However, there is considerable disagreement among contemporary political thinkers about how much power a government should have and what exactly its role should be. Some believe that governments have the ability and responsibility to solve collective action problems that cannot be solved through market forces alone, while others argue that governments should limit their actions to what is necessary or legitimate.

Throughout history, governments have been created in order to protect people from each other and to provide the basics of life—food, shelter, health care, education. Governments are the most powerful tool a people have to protect their interests and pursue happiness, and they will continue to evolve as people discover better and more effective ways to organize themselves.

Most Americans say they have a positive view of the role of government and support its efforts to keep the nation safe from terrorism (72% of those surveyed), respond to natural disasters (62%), provide affordable housing (53%), strengthen the economy (54%), ensuring the safety of food and medicine (54%) and manage immigration (46%).

There are three levels of government—federal, state and local—and they each have different responsibilities and funding. On the federal level, a small group of elected officials known as the Cabinet advises the President on all important decisions and the Senate must approve (give “advice and consent”) to all presidential nominees for top government positions, including cabinet officers, U.S. ambassadors to foreign countries and Supreme Court Justices. Laws are passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and they can be overturned by a presidential veto. The government is also responsible for national defense, military spending, the management of national parks and other public lands, and many other programs and tasks. The full name of the federal government is “The United States Government”; it is referred to as this on money, in treaties and in legal cases.