Government is the institution through which a nation, state, community, or town exercises authority and sets rules. Governments are necessary for civilized societies to exist, but they can be structured in a variety of ways. The most common types of modern governments are democracies, totalitarian regimes, and various forms of authoritarianism. In addition, there are a number of hybrid systems that blend elements of these main categories.
Governments must be structured to support the values that people want to live by and to protect the interests of all citizens. Governments may do this through a variety of methods, including legislation, regulation, and taxation. Government also carries out essential services such as education, fire protection, and police.
Many people have fundamental differences in opinion about what the government should do. For example, Republicans and Democrats differ significantly about whether it is the role of government to sometimes protect people from themselves. Overall, 59% of Americans say that the government needs to make laws that can sometimes protect people from themselves, while 39% believe that it is not the role of government to do so.
The delegates at the Constitutional Convention strove to structure a government that would be limited in scope and that diffused power among three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. They did so through the Great Compromise, creating a system in which each branch of government is given certain specific powers. Congress, for example, is authorized to raise revenue through taxes and tariffs. It is also allowed to veto legislation. If a president vetoes a bill passed by Congress, the Senate is permitted to override the veto with a two-thirds vote.
Separating powers between the different branches of government is a way to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. This concept is called the system of checks and balances, which James Madison argued for in Federalist No. 51. He argued that it is impossible to make all politicians angels who will never attempt to grab more power than they should, and so it is necessary to structure the government in a way that counteracts ambition.
At the local level, representatives elected by voters try to secure funding for things that will benefit people living in their areas. At the state and national levels, money is allocated to projects such as highway construction, university research, wildlife management, and national defense. Government agencies then receive the funds and use them to put government policy into practice.
In addition to providing basic services, most nations also protect the freedoms that are essential for a democracy, such as the freedom of speech and press, and the right to vote. Governments also protect public goods: things that everybody can use but that are in a limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean water. They also protect private goods: things that some people can use but that are not available to others, such as the property of the rich.