The Basics of Government

Government is a system by which people rule an organized community, generally a state. It has three broad branches: the legislature, executive and judiciary. The framers of the United States Constitution believed that making any one branch too powerful caused big problems, so they put in place rules ensuring that each branch checks and balances the others. This is called the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances.

Governments decide how to use the money they collect through taxes and other measures to create a structure for providing public goods such as education, police and fire departments, roads and libraries. At the national level, Congress and the President draft budgets that determine how to spend money. On the local level, city councils and borough or county governments make laws to manage the resources of a municipality.

The most basic way a government functions is by deciding how to allocate resources and what to do about problems that arise. The guiding principles of the government’s policymaking process include:

When there is disagreement about how to solve a problem, the government will try to find a solution that is fair to all people. If a law is passed that a citizen believes to be unfair, the citizen can work to change the law. A common example of this is to write a letter to a member of Congress explaining why the law should be changed.

A person who works for the government is called a servant of the people. In this role, the servant’s job is to take care of citizens’ problems and serve the nation’s interests. Government workers have a variety of responsibilities including:

Taking care of the needs of the people means that the government must be financially sound. This is done by levying taxes and tariffs and by creating budgets that determine how much money the government will spend each year. If enough money cannot be raised through taxes, the government can borrow money. Congress can also direct spending on specific items. This is sometimes called earmarking.

The form of the government is determined by who has the authority to govern: a single person (an autocracy), a select group of people (an oligarchy) or all the people as a whole (a democracy). There are also variations on these forms such as a constitutional monarchy with a head of state who is ceremonial rather than active in policy formation and implementation; a parliamentary monarchy with true democratic leadership; and a republic with a President and Cabinet. In these and other types of government, people elect representatives to serve in a legislature or parliament, a presidency or royal court and a senate or congress. Then they vote on laws that are enacted by the legislature and enforced by the presidency or the senate or the legislative branch of the executive, the judiciary. If the laws are interpreted as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, they may be overturned by that branch.