Government is the institution that a country, state or political community uses to organize itself and implement policies. It is responsible for regulating the economy, enforcing laws, protecting citizens, and providing public services such as education and healthcare. Governments also provide services that are not obtainable or affordable for individuals to provide on their own, such as national defense and an infrastructure for transportation.
Governments are typically made up of a legislative branch, an executive branch and a judicial branch. Each of these branches has specific roles and responsibilities, but they all share common functions:
The legislative branch makes the laws of a country. In a democracy, this is done through a system of voting and deliberation. In an indirect democracy, the citizenry selects delegates or representatives through election or some other process like sortition to form a governing body. In the United States, this body is called Congress. Congress has 435 voting members, two for each of the 50 states. The number of states and the number of congressional seats is fixed by the Constitution and can only be changed through a constitutional amendment.
The executive branch enforces the laws that the legislature passes. It also takes care of other tasks, such as foreign policy, immigration and minting money. The executive branch has the highest power in our federal system of government, but it can be checked by both the legislature and the judicial branch. This is how the Founders created a system of checks and balances to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful.
A judicial branch ensures that the legislative and executive branches are following the law and not violating citizens’ rights. The judicial branch also provides a mechanism for settling disputes between private parties and is a critical part of our democracy. Government is necessary because people need to be protected from violence and from the vicissitudes of life that they cannot control on their own. Governments also provide goods and services that they can’t create or afford on their own, such as national defense, roads and bridges and wildlife management.
Governments are often criticized because of their inefficiency, bureaucracy and cronyism. But, as we’ve seen, government can be a necessary tool for creating and maintaining a prosperous society. As the world becomes more complex, governments will continue to evolve to serve their citizens and protect them from the vicissitudes of daily life. Governments should focus on making the best possible use of resources and limiting waste. This will enable them to be more effective in addressing the challenges of our changing world.