A government is the group of people that has the power to rule in a territory, be it a country, state within a country or a region. Governments make laws, rules and regulations, collect taxes, print money and have a monopoly on the legal use of force. There are many types of governments: democracies, totalitarian regimes, and a range of systems that fall somewhere between these two extremes. Governments also have the responsibility to keep citizens safe, secure and informed.
A fundamental responsibility of all governments is to provide a stable structure that allows goods and services to be made available for the benefit of their populations. The most basic example is the creation of roads, bridges and buildings that make transportation possible. More recently, some nations have created social programs designed to lift people out of poverty and give them a safety net. Many of these programs are controversial in the United States, where critics claim that they erode individual responsibility and encourage dependence on government assistance.
Another key role of all governments is to protect the environment, both by regulating pollutants and through the creation of parks. Some people argue that a more efficient and effective way to do this is through the market, while others believe that environmental problems can be better solved by government agencies. Governments also have a responsibility to regulate business practices. Some of this is done to prevent monopolies and other abuses of market power, but much of it is intended to protect the public from unsafe or fraudulent products. Governments also have the authority to impose fines, criminal penalties and even ban some activities.
Governments rely on tax revenues to fund their operations and to pay for goods and services they provide to the people. They collect funds through taxes on income, property and sales. They then allocate this money for different purposes at local, state and national levels. On the local level, money may be allocated for things like school funding, police and fire departments, and maintenance of public parks. On the federal level, money is earmarked for things such as defense spending, Medicare and Social Security benefits for retirees, the management of national parks, and other discretionary programs.
The debate over the proper role of government is a long-standing one. Some believe that governments should provide people with food, shelter and medical care as a matter of policy, while others argue that doing so is costly and reduces the incentive for private citizens to take responsibility for their own lives. Governments should be accountable to their citizens, and they must provide a process for the people to express their views on issues that affect them directly. This is achieved through the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that was originally envisioned by the founders of the United States. Ideally, this system provides opportunities for citizens to influence the creation of law at every step, from initial idea to final implementation.