Government is the way people organize themselves to make and enforce rules, accomplish collective goals, and provide benefits that they cannot provide on their own. Governments exist at every level, from the local school board to the federal government. In the United States, our government consists of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
Governments have many jobs, but they do best when they serve the interests of all citizens, not just the most affluent or powerful ones. This is the philosophy behind democratic government. A government that does not serve the interests of its citizens will soon lose them.
To fulfill their mission, governments must have the necessary resources to perform their functions. To raise these funds, governments levy taxes and tariffs on the people they serve. If the money collected does not cover all the costs of a particular program, Congress may also authorize borrowing.
One of the most important roles of a government is to protect private property rights. This ensures that other people do not take a person’s house or invention without permission, and it also allows those with property to pursue legal help if a neighbor is violating their rights. Governments also step in to address market failures, such as monopolies and negative side effects of products or services that affect third parties.
Another crucial function of governments is to redistribute income. They do this by collecting taxes from the people and paying them to people who cannot earn a living (unemployment and Social Security) or need help with their bills (welfare). This is not always popular, but it helps to spread wealth more evenly.
Governments also manage to provide infrastructure and public goods that people want but do not have the means to obtain on their own. This includes schools, roads, police and fire departments, and mail service. Governments also work to protect common goods, which are free for everyone to use but are in limited supply, like fish in the sea or clean drinking water. Governments often set limits on the amount of these common goods that can be used to prevent a few people from taking all of them and leaving others with none.
While there are many ways to describe government, the word itself comes from the Latin gubernare, meaning “to steer a ship.” There are many different types of governments, and they can be categorized as monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, totalitarian regimes, autocracy, communism, or socialist systems. Generally, the most stable form of government is one with a constitution, which sets forth the principles and philosophy upon which the government operates. Some constitutions are more detailed than others, and some are more vague, but all have some core principles that determine how a government functions.