What Is Government?

Government is the group of people who have power to rule a territory (this may be a country, state within a country, city or neighborhood) according to the law. Governments make laws, enforce them by using police and other enforcement agencies, collect taxes and print money. They also have monopolies over the use of force and systems of justice that list the acts or activities that are against the law and describe the punishments for breaking those laws. They can be democratic, parliamentary, presidential, federal or unitary.

People form governments in order to protect themselves from threats such as invasion by other countries, economic collapse or social unrest. Governments are not a source of wealth, but they can provide some public goods such as roads, education and medical care. They are also responsible for protecting private property and providing safety. People may have a sense of duty to help those in need, but they are more likely to fulfill this duty through voluntary actions, such as giving to charities or helping friends and neighbors, rather than through legal obligations imposed by government.

During the seventeenth century, English philosopher John Locke wrote a book called Two Treatises of Civil Government, which argued that the main function of a government should be to protect people’s “natural rights.” The idea of natural rights is that all humans are born free and equal, so they should not be treated differently by others. In addition, he argued that kings and other lords do not have inherent powers and must be limited in the scope of their authority by law. Governments have evolved in many ways since then, but the concept of natural rights continues to shape the way societies are structured.

Governments also create laws to prevent people from harming themselves and each other. They often have departments such as health, fire, police and postal service. Governments can help to solve problems by having diplomats who communicate with the leaders of other countries to try to resolve differences and avoid war. They can also make agreements on commercial and cultural issues such as international trade, exchange of scientific information or sports events and give aid to those in need.

While there is debate about the extent of government’s responsibility to provide social programs, most nations do have some type of welfare system that helps those in need. This includes programs that provide food, housing and medical care for the poor. Governments can also be involved in managing “negative externalities” by limiting the power of monopolies or by addressing environmental damage caused by companies. However, this is a very challenging task and it is generally better to let markets work as much as possible before governments intervene.