The Role of Government


Government is the means by which a society organizes and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that are essential to a community as a whole. Governments around the world take on a wide range of duties, including establishing and enforcing rules, managing foreign affairs and security, overseeing the economy and providing public services, such as education, police and fire departments, libraries and mail service. Different governments are organized differently and execute their responsibilities in different ways.

The structure of government is usually determined by the form of civil law – which defines legal rights and obligations, governs contracts and other matters of everyday life, and regulates how businesses are run. Civil law is based on the principle that all persons have equal rights and responsibilities, regardless of their social status. The principles of a civil law system also promote democracy and protect human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and property, and the equality of all individuals.

In the United States, federal, state and local government are arranged in a multi-level system that operates under a set of rules outlined in the Constitution. The legislative branch of the United States government consists of Congress, which includes the Senate and House of Representatives; the executive branch, which includes the President and Vice President along with major cabinet departments; and the judicial branch, which interprets laws through the court system, including the Supreme Court. The system also provides for the separation of powers, ensuring that no one branch of the government holds too much power over other branches.

As part of its role in creating laws, the legislative branch of a country’s government typically levies taxes and tariffs to fund essential government functions, such as defending national borders and providing public services. If the money raised is not enough to pay for all that a nation needs, it may authorize borrowing to cover the shortfall. In addition to statutory spending, the legislative branch may also direct funding toward specific projects through congressionally-directed budgeting.

A government’s responsibilities also include protecting common goods, such as clean water and fish in the sea. These are things that everyone can use, but are in limited supply. Governments protect them to ensure that a few people do not abuse their access and leave others with nothing.

In this year’s survey, more than six-in-ten adults say government should provide services to help those who cannot care for themselves or provide for themselves. This sentiment is most strongly felt among those who have received assistance from government programs, such as unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicare. It is less pronounced among those who have not received these benefits, as well as those who are politically conservative or Republican. These differences are consistent with previous surveys.