Government is a system of rules and policies that a people or group chooses to use to accomplish the goals and provide benefits the society as a whole needs. Governments can be helpful or harmful, depending on their size, type, and approach to business and the public. They can help businesses by providing financial, advisory, and other services. They can also be adversarial by creating and enforcing consumer-protection, worker-safety, and other laws that limit competition or create barriers to entry.
Government first evolved as people discovered that they could better protect themselves by staying together in groups. This led to the recognition that some members of a group (later a country) should have more power than others. This recognition formed the basis of sovereignty, which is the right of a nation to control its territory and resources without interference from outside forces.
Modern governments at the local, state, and federal levels are responsible for a wide variety of essential services. These include schools, fire departments, mail service, police protection, and more. Governments also provide military defense and food, housing, and health care for those who cannot afford them.
The basic function of government is to legislate (make laws) and to enforce those laws. Governments also regulate access to common goods such as natural resources and wildlife. They also make decisions about morality and punish those who break the law. Governments also determine how much to tax citizens in order to pay for their activities.
A government’s size and authority are defined by the Constitution of a country or state. Some states, such as New York, have many smaller government agencies that are part of the larger federal government. These agencies may be independent from each other and have their own missions, although they work under the direction of a Cabinet-level executive department.
Whether the people in a given government have the opportunity to participate directly in its decision-making depends on the form of government. Governments are classified according to the number of people who have power over the entire population: one person (an autocracy, such as a monarchy), a select group of people (an oligarchy), or all citizens (a democracy).
In some countries, a large proportion of the workforce is employed in the government. Other countries have a very small percentage of their workforce working in the government. Governments can also be compared by the level of corruption. The more corrupt a government, the less effective it will be. A high level of corruption can have severe consequences for the people in that country. Examples of corruption in the United States include campaign financing, lobbying, and bribery. These practices can be difficult to detect and prosecute. However, some governments have successfully reduced corruption by using performance-based regulations, which require agencies to prove their effectiveness before receiving funding. This approach has been endorsed by both parties in the United States.