The Role of Government


Governments are organizations that use their power to achieve goals and provide benefits for the members of a society. They may serve a variety of functions, including regulating the economy, protecting national borders and providing social programs for citizens. The exact forms that governments take are a reflection of the culture, history and environment of each country. Some people believe that the role of government should be limited while others think that the government can perform many valuable services that cannot be adequately provided by private industry.

Many people think that the main function of government is to protect the natural rights of citizens. This is often referred to as the social contract theory, and it was popularized by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. The idea behind the social contract is that individuals give up some of their freedoms in return for a guarantee that their government will protect them from outside forces such as crime and war.

Another important role of the government is to protect common goods that all citizens can benefit from but are in limited supply, such as clean water and a fish population in the sea. These are known as public goods, and they can be protected by laws that prevent some individuals from using more of them than is fair for the whole society. Governments are also responsible for delivering services that individuals cannot receive from the market, such as education and national security.

A government’s ability to tax its citizens and draw on the resources of the nation are two factors that distinguish it from other types of businesses. Only the government can mobilize a large army and create plans to protect the country from attack, and it is hard to imagine a business being able to manage such an operation on its own. Governments also have the unique ability to collect intelligence and gather evidence to prosecute criminals.

Governments spend money on a wide range of activities. At the local level, they allocate funds for things such as police and fire departments, roads and bridges, schools, state colleges and universities, and wildlife management. At the state and federal levels, they spend money on such items as defense, education, Social Security, and national parks. The representatives elected to the various levels of government are responsible for securing funding for these priorities from citizens, through taxes and fees.

Governments must also be able to regulate the economy, distribute incomes, oversee budgets and make decisions regarding foreign policy. This is not easy, as governments are often influenced by many different factors, such as economic trends, intellectual and philosophical influences and geographic or climate conditions. The specifics of how a government is structured are usually outlined in a document called a constitution, which sets out the structure and rules for a particular country’s government. Some countries have multiple documents that spell out the different facets of their government, while others combine the functions of one document.