What Is a Government?


A government consists of the institutions and people who create and enforce laws, organize public services, and provide military protection for its citizens. Governments can vary greatly in their size, number of departments, and scope of authority. Typically, they have some type of leader who is usually assisted by ministers and advisors. Government leaders may belong to a political party which identifies its members and coordinates the activities of those who seek to become elected to government positions.

It is difficult to categorize governments because different factors influence how they form and function. They reflect a country’s environment, history, and political ideals. They also respond to current events and the input of citizens.

One of the most important jobs of a government is to protect common goods, such as natural resources or wildlife, that all people can use but are in limited supply. If a few people take too freely from these goods, they will run out and leave others with nothing to use. Governments regulate the use of these resources so that people do not overuse them and cause their destruction.

Another job of a government is to provide public goods and services such as education, public transportation, mail service, and police and fire protection. Governments often raise funds to pay for these public goods and services by taxing the income or property of its citizens. They draft budgets to determine how the money collected will be spent on services.

Governments have many other functions that help maintain social order. For example, they make laws that ensure the fair operation of business markets. They also protect the health and safety of people. They may inspect factories and hospitals, set the standards for products such as food, drugs, and cars, and monitor the environment to ensure that pollutants do not harm people or the planet.

While government is primarily responsible for protecting its citizens, it must deal with problems and conflicts that arise among them. These can be disputes over property or the right to control one’s own life and destiny. Such disputes almost always involve a power imbalance between groups. Some people have suggested that this is because human nature dictates that humans are selfish and greedy and must fight to control what belongs to them.

In response to this human weakness, governments often try to establish a balance of power between different institutions that have varying degrees of responsibility for making policy decisions. This arrangement is called a separation of powers. For example, in the United States, Congress passes laws and approves (or gives “advice and consent”) presidential appointments to federal court judges and to certain cabinet officers and department secretaries. The President can veto these bills and nominations, and the Supreme Court can overturn any unconstitutional law or executive action. This separation of power helps keep politicians from becoming too powerful and tyrannical. The idea of a balanced government dates back thousands of years. Abraham Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” and similar ideas have been expressed throughout history.