What Is Government?

Government is an organization that has power to rule a territory, which can be a country, a state or province within a country, a city, town or region. Governments make laws, collect taxes, print money, regulate access to common goods, like land or water, and protect citizens from outside threats. They have monopolies on the use of force, and they have systems of justice to enforce their laws and punish people who break them.

In the United States, federal, state and local governments provide stability, security and crucial services such as free public education, police and fire departments, mail service, food, housing and health care for the poor. Governments also protect the environment and manage national parks and wildlife refuges. These are called “public goods,” because they benefit everyone, not just those who pay to use them. The market can’t provide these goods or services because they are too expensive, so they need to be provided by government agencies.

A key function of government is ensuring that people have the opportunity to make their needs and opinions known to public officials. This is the essence of democracy, which relies on the ability and willingness of ordinary people to elect representatives who will make political decisions for them. It is this feature that distinguishes a democracy from an autocracy or an oligarchy, both of which lack the same level of participation by ordinary people.

There are many other functions that governments perform, but the most important is creating and enforcing rules. Governments make rules about what is legal and illegal, and they create a structure by which private businesses can be created and operate. Governments also play a role in a market economy, helping to regulate and encourage growth and development of industries, as well as manage negative externalities (e.g. environmental impact, overfishing) and redistribute income.

While it may seem obvious that a government should be run by the people, it has not always been so. Some governments have been corrupt and dictatorial, while others have been democratic and fair. But over the years, Americans have consistently voted to elect leaders who will compromise and work together to achieve their goals rather than stick with their own ideological beliefs or principles or fight for personal values.

Abraham Lincoln famously stated that “government of the people, by the people and for the people” is a great principle to live by. It is also a principle that is increasingly being embraced by other nations around the world, which can see how much more successful and happy their citizens are when they have the opportunity to participate in their own government. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that still has a government of the people, by the people and for its citizens. The American people can influence the laws that their government makes as they travel through a long, complex process to become law. They can lobby Congress and vote to pass legislation they agree with, or they can work to persuade their elected representatives to oppose policies that they disagree with.