A government is a group of people that rules or controls a country or other political unit. A government’s job is to make laws and spend money to help people.
Some of the things that a government does for its people include providing security, such as police and fire departments; maintaining roads, bridges, and public parks; and food, education, and health care. Government also regulates the private economy to keep people safe and help businesses succeed. Governments are organized into branches with different powers and functions. A system of checks and balances ensures that one branch of government does not become too powerful.
In the United States, citizens elect representatives to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. These bodies make laws to govern their jurisdictions and pass measures to raise money, through taxes on income, property, and sales. They also draft budgets to determine how the funds they raise will be spent for services. Local governments, for example, allot money to schools, police and fire departments, and city utilities. The federal government gives money to the military, social security, and pensions for veterans; maintains federal courts and prisons; and manages national parks.
The Judicial Branch makes sure that the laws Congress makes and the way they are enforced are legal. They are like referees in a sport. They have a big job because they must understand the Constitution very well and decide if something Congress or the President does is legal.
Another important part of government is the Executive Branch, headed by the President. The President has many jobs, but he or she is mostly in charge of bigger problems and representing the nation to other countries. The President has a team of people called the Cabinet who handle the day-to-day work of running the government. The President must get the approval of both houses of Congress for certain important appointments, such as department secretaries and members of the Supreme Court. Congress also requires the President’s “advice and consent” before hiring ambassadors to foreign countries.
The structure of a government can be classified as a monarchy, an oligarchy, a republic (representative democracy or direct democracy), a communist country, a socialist country, or any other type of society or social organization. These kinds of systems differ in the amount of power that individuals have over their own lives and how they are elected. All of them have some good points and some bad ones. However, most of the world’s nations have a kind of government that includes the following: Majority rule with respect for minority rights. Limited government with a Bill of Rights to limit the power of officials and protect the rights of citizens. Competitive political parties. Checks and balances to control the abuse of power. An independent judiciary. This article is an adaptation of Government by Betty Debnam, published by Andrews and McMeel, 1995. Grades K-4. Used with permission of the publisher.