Government is a system of people and laws that define and control the country we live in. It sets the rules for our interactions with each other and with nature, and provides protection, resources, and opportunities to its citizens. Governments also set taxes, and spend money on things that are important to a nation, such as national defense, education, housing for poor people, or health care.
Governments exist in almost every part of the world and come in all shapes and sizes. The main types of government are democracies, totalitarian regimes, and, sitting somewhere in between, authoritarian regimes. Many governments have a constitution, which is a statement of its governing principles and philosophy.
In the United States, we have a representative democracy. This means that a group of people, called the Congress, make laws for all of us. Congress is made up of two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives has 435 members divided evenly between all 50 states. The Senate has 100 members, with two senators for each state. The President, who is the head of our Executive Branch, makes sure that everyone follows the laws that Congress creates. The President also represents the country when talking with leaders from other countries.
Because of its unique ability to tax the entire population and compel citizen compliance, only government can provide some goods and services that are not easily or cheaply produced by the market. For example, it would be impossible for a private company to protect the nation from attack by foreign forces or to create schools and public transportation systems for its citizens. These are called “public goods,” because they benefit the whole society.
The government has a responsibility to its citizens to be fair and equal. For example, it must not discriminate against people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity. It must protect the environment and treat all its citizens with dignity and respect. In addition, it must ensure that its laws and policies are consistent with the constitution of the nation.
The term government can be used to describe a country, a region, or even an organization. But, most commonly, it refers to the system of laws, people, and institutions that govern a particular country or region. Governments are organized into branches, each overseeing a different function of leadership: the legislative branch (Congress and the House and Senate), the executive branch (the President and his or her Cabinet), and the judicial branch (municipal courts, higher-level districts, circuit, and Supreme Court). This division is intended to limit the power of any one sector so that no single group has too much power. This is known as the system of checks and balances. It’s also designed to give citizens a say in how their government runs.