The role of government is to provide goods and services that individuals cannot easily or cheaply produce themselves, such as national defense, education, roads and public utilities. Governments also regulate access to common resources like natural resources and wildlife. Governments are able to do this because they can tax their citizens, draw on the resources of the entire nation and compel citizen compliance.
Governments must have laws to show people where force can be used legally and where it cannot. Without this, people would be free to kill each other and destroy the planet because there would be no limits on their actions. Governments must state these limits clearly and enforce them to protect their citizens’ rights and property.
In addition to making laws, governments raise money for programs by charging fees or taxes on certain activities or items, such as income, property and sales. Governments can also borrow money by selling securities to the public, such as bonds, that promise a return of the original amount plus interest in the future. They can also disburse money directly to businesses or to citizens through social programs.
Government is made up of the legislative branch (lawmakers), executive branch (executives) and judicial branch (judges). The legislative branch makes the laws that govern the country. It is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives and senators are elected by the people. The President nominates Supreme Court justices and judges for the courts of appeals and district courts, who evaluate legal cases. Congress can approve or deny these nominations.
The executive branch implements the laws that the legislative and judicial branches make. It oversees the budget, signs contracts with private companies and disburses funds to the various departments. It also establishes and enforces rules for the behavior of all federal employees. The judicial branch interprets and applies the law. It does this by hearing and making decisions on legal cases brought before the courts.
A major responsibility of the judicial branch is to decide whether laws are constitutional or not. This branch of the government is a critical part of our system of checks and balances that ensures that the power of the executive and legislative branches is limited. The judicial branch also defends individual and property rights. This includes protecting the right to free speech and limiting unreasonable discrimination. The judicial branch can also enforce the laws against the financial activities of the banks and other financial institutions, and prevent criminal activity. This is an important function for a stable economy. This is why a large portion of the judicial branch is dedicated to this area of its work. It is a very important part of our society. Without it, we would not have a fair and prosperous country. This article originally appeared on Pew Research Center and is republished here with permission. Learn more about this and other topics on our website.