Government is a set of rules and institutions by which people organize themselves to accomplish their goals. It can exist on a large scale, as in a country or state, or on a smaller scale, as in a city or town. Governments are responsible for protecting citizens, providing goods and services, regulating the economy, and preventing disasters. People in many countries have different views of what a good government should look like, but most accept that there needs to be some sort of authority to manage people and resources.
Governments first evolved as groups of people recognized the need to protect themselves from other communities or nations. They also discovered that it was more effective to share power and resources among themselves, forming the notion of sovereignty, or the right to be self-governing.
Today, governments have grown to include not only military protection, but also a wide array of public goods and services. A few examples are police and fire departments, schools, mail service, transportation, and public parks. In addition, most governments protect their citizens’ rights to free speech and the press. Some governments even provide healthcare and food for the poor.
One of the most important functions of a government is to regulate access to “common goods” such as natural resources. Because these resources are in limited supply, and because some people take them freely without paying for them, it is necessary to establish laws to limit their use. Governments at the national, state and local levels enforce these laws.
In the United States, there are several different types of government at the federal, state and local levels. At the top level is Congress, which consists of two senators per state and representatives based on population. At the state level, there are various legislatures which have their own executive branches and agencies. At the local level, there are city councils and boards of supervisors.
All of these government bodies are organized into different institutions that each have specific powers and duties. The distribution of these powers differs from one government to another, but the underlying principle is that people have a choice as to which representatives they choose to elect to represent them. These representatives then make decisions about how to spend the funds collected by government agencies.
Government agencies are either executive bodies that answer to the Cabinet, or non-departmental public bodies, known as Quangos in the United Kingdom, that are created by enabling legislation by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Parliament. The British term has a broad meaning and can refer to almost any organization that receives funding directly from the taxpayer. Whether the agency is a government department or a private business, it has to be accountable for its actions. This accountability is the basis for trust in a government system. Gallup surveys indicate that Americans generally have favorable opinions about most government agencies, including the Postal Service, NASA and the CIA.