Government is responsible for providing services that individuals cannot effectively provide themselves, such as military defense, fire and police departments, roads, education, social services, and environmental protection. The revenue necessary to fund these services comes from taxes and fees. The government may also borrow money by selling securities such as bonds. The most important function of governments, however, is to create and enforce laws that protect individual rights and property.
Most people agree that the basic functions of government include maintaining law and order, defending the country against external threats, and strengthening the economy. However, opinions about which specific policies are appropriate and desirable vary widely. For example, in this interview, President Clinton discusses his ideas about the role of government and the importance of universal health care and job creation.
The debate over what the proper roles of government should be has a long history. The earliest political concepts can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome, although many of the terms commonly used to describe them are of recent origin. The names for some of the most common types of government, such as monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, have not changed much in meaning since they were coined.
A major purpose of government is to create and implement rules that protect individuals against exploitation, aggression, and fraud. Governments make these rules by creating and enforcing contracts, making laws, and regulating the financial and economic activity of businesses. Governments can also create and administer programs that give citizens access to goods and services they would not otherwise be able to afford, such as health insurance, housing assistance, and disability payments.
Governments should manage positive externalities, which are situations in which the benefits of an activity outweigh the costs. This might include managing public utilities, promoting certain forms of investment, or encouraging research and development. Governments should also take into account negative externalities, which are situations in which the costs of an activity outweigh the benefits. For example, governments should regulate and monitor fishing activities to prevent overfishing or ensure that the production of cars does not lead to air pollution.
One possible role for the government is to remove regional disparities within a country by offering incentives for industries to move to backward regions. This is a topic that has been examined in a number of countries, including India and Brazil.
In general, most people believe that the government should be proactive rather than reactive. This means that it should focus on preventing problems before they occur, rather than trying to fix them after they have already happened. This might involve cleaning international waters, establishing sanctuaries, and reducing air pollution. It might also involve prioritizing investments in renewable energy resources. In the past, this has been a difficult task for most governments to achieve because they have had limited resources and many competing priorities. In addition, most issues are so complex that they require an enormous amount of funding and coordination to resolve.