Government is the institution through which leaders exercise authority to make and enforce rules. It is also responsible for the security of national borders, social welfare, economic growth, and education. Governments are organized in a variety of ways depending on the needs of the people and the type of governing style chosen by that society. Governments can be found in every country of the world. The different types of governments include dictatorship (rule by one person), empire (rule through conquest), feudalism (orderly pyramid of control), communism (everyone is equal and rules are decided collectively), democratic republics, monarchies, and constitutional republics.
In a democracy, citizens are directly involved in the decision-making process through their vote for representatives who represent their interests. The representatives are usually part of a group of people with similar ideas and philosophies who call themselves a political party. The elected officials are called Representatives and Senators in the United States. They are expected to follow the rules of the Constitution and their constituents’ social and economic needs.
Another important role of the federal and state governments is regulating public access to natural resources such as air, water, wildlife, and public lands. These are limited resources and can be depleted if used too freely by people. Governments help to regulate the use of these resources so that they can be replenished. Governments are also responsible for providing a number of services that benefit the population as a whole, such as public schools, police forces, fire departments, post offices, and transportation infrastructure. These services require funding, and governments can raise money through taxes.
These taxes can be collected in many ways, such as income tax, property taxes, sales and excise taxes, or gasoline and fuel taxes. Governments may also use a combination of these and other sources of funds to provide services for their citizens. These include health care, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and education.
The types of taxes a government uses to fund its programs are dependent on the needs and political climate at that time. Taxes are not necessarily good or bad for the economy, but they do affect the quality of life of the people in a society.
Governments are also responsible for regulating the actions of businesses in order to ensure fairness in the marketplace. They pass laws to prevent unfair business practices, and they protect consumers through product safety standards and environmental regulations.
The three levels of government in the United States are the federal, state, and local. Each of these has three branches: the executive branch, legislative, and judicial. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court and all lower courts. Each level of government is responsible for different things, and the rules that each one makes cannot conflict with those of the other levels. This is illustrated on the Levels of Government Ladder handout. Students can use this to explore how different levels of government work together and what happens when they do not cooperate.