What Is Government?


Government, in its broadest sense, is any institution that enforces rules and allocates power for the achievement of collective goals or benefits that society as a whole needs. Governments may be constituted in many different ways, and each type of government has a unique set of rules that define how the organization operates. In general, governments create and enforce laws, protect their citizens, manage economies, provide goods and services, and ensure national security. They also often have a role in education and research.

Regardless of their form, all governments must raise money to function, and this usually involves the imposition of taxes. Some governments may levy a single tax, while others may employ multiple mechanisms for collecting revenue. Some examples of the latter include sales and income taxes, property tax, state lotteries, and vehicle registration fees. Governments must also establish a legal system for settling disputes.

Most governments are elected by the people, which allows citizens to participate in a democracy and make their voices heard on issues that impact them. In the United States and other Western democracies, this means citizens have the right to vote for their representatives, as well as the rights of freedom of speech and a free press.

The responsibilities of a government depend on its form, but most governments must create and enforce laws, protect their citizens, regulate the economy, and provide public goods and services. Depending on the form of government, a country’s citizens might be required to contribute taxes, work, or military service in order to receive certain benefits.

Governments may also be structured to allow the balance of powers between different branches, or departments, of the government to prevent one faction from seizing too much power. This is an idea first advocated by James Madison in Federalist No. 51, in which he described how it was impossible to make politicians perfect and that the best way to counter ambition was to design the government structure so that different branches compete against each other.

Some forms of government do not involve direct democracy, where the citizenry votes on every issue; instead, they select a few members to represent them in the governing body, either by election or sortition. While this system takes more time, it gives citizens the chance to weigh in on each policy and change it if necessary, from its initial conception to its final implementation. The resulting process is often referred to as checks and balances.