Government is the system of people, laws and officials that define and control a country. It is mainly concerned with public life, though many of the laws it establishes and enforces can regulate private life too. Governments come in all shapes and sizes, but they all do the same basic thing: govern.
Taking Care of People
A primary purpose of government is to provide for the needs of society, especially those of its poorest citizens. Governments can do this by providing social services, such as education and health care, or through economic policies that give people access to essential resources, such as clean water and a stable currency system. Governments can also manage positive externalities by regulating activities that benefit society as a whole, such as pollution controls, agricultural subsidies and environmental protection. Governments can also help by facilitating markets in goods and services, such as promoting tourism or opening new markets through trade agreements.
In addition to providing for basic needs, governments are needed to promote and protect individual freedoms. Governments can do this by providing a structure where people can make their needs and opinions known to officials. This is one of the major characteristics that distinguishes a government from an oligarchy, where only a small group of people make decisions for the whole population. Governments can also provide a sense of security and stability by ensuring that citizens can get the resources they need when disaster strikes, such as a fire or natural disaster. Governments can provide this in the form of military protection, police and fire departments, or by ensuring that the basic necessities of life are available through public services such as public education, transportation, mail service and food, housing and health care for the poor.
When most Americans think about the role of government, they tend to focus on its responsibilities in protecting them from external threats and providing basic needs like health care, education, and transportation. These are the things most people expect from their government, which explains why they are so surprised when these responsibilities are cut. Governments need to be transparent in explaining their responsibilities and justifying cuts, so that the people understand how these decisions are made and can have some input into the process.
Governments at the national, state and local levels all provide valuable services to their citizens. At the national level, this includes military defense, maintaining highways and bridges, education and research. At the state and local levels, this includes funding for schools, libraries, parks and wildlife management, as well as managing public land. Each level of government must also balance its budget with its responsibilities to ensure that it is not overstepping its bounds. This concept is illustrated by the levels of government ladder, a graphic that shows how decisions and laws passed by each level of government cannot conflict with those made at higher levels. This allows the citizens to choose representatives who share their views and goals.