The Role of Government

Government is the people, laws, and officials that define and control your country. It is primarily concerned with the rules and interactions of citizens in public life, but the laws that it creates and enforces can affect private life as well.

There are many different types of governments, but they all share the common function of establishing and enforcing rules that dictate what happens in public life. Governments make decisions about taxes, spending, and providing services. They also set policy about such things as defense, crime, education, health care, transportation, and civil rights. Governments may be organized as democracies, totalitarian regimes, autocracies, monarchies, oligarchies, and theocracies. Modern classification systems often group these together as a political system spectrum with democracy at one end and totalitarianism at the other with a range of hybrid forms in between.

Generally, governments are organized at three levels: national, state and local. Each level has its own elected representatives that work to secure funds to meet specific needs. At the local level, this might mean funding a police department or a fire department. At the state level, it might mean funding state colleges and universities or maintaining roads or bridges. At the national level, it might mean funding for such things as Social Security, military service benefits, or management of national parks.

The role of government is to represent the interests of its constituents in a fair and transparent way. In addition to representing the will of the people, governments should provide the foundation for economic development and social cohesion. Governments should be concerned with protecting citizens from violence by both domestic and foreign enemies. They can do this by maintaining armed forces, carrying out intelligence activities, limiting immigration from countries that might be a threat, and embargoing the export of materials that could be used by a potential enemy.

One of the oldest justifications for government is its role as protector. Thomas Hobbes wrote that without the presence of a government to provide law and order, there would be unrelenting violence between human beings. We see this today in unstable states and regions that lack a central authority to keep the peace and protect citizens from warring bands of people.

Most governments spend more money than they receive in cash, so they must borrow to fund the difference. One method of borrowing money is to sell securities, called bonds, to the general public. When the bonds mature, or expire, the government body returns the money that was borrowed plus interest to the buyers. Governments also use other methods of borrowing, including using the funds from a national bank or selling off government assets such as natural resources. Governments may also issue tax refunds or credits to encourage people to pay taxes. The government may also print money to cover a deficit.