The government is the group of people and laws that define and control a country. It has three main parts: executive, legislative and judicial. The government is also the group that decides what the public can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot own and how much money they must pay for things like education, healthcare and security (Figure 1.1).
A good government is essential to a civilized society. It helps ensure the rights of individuals, protects citizens from harm, and provides security for all. Government also makes sure that all citizens are treated fairly and equally. It is not surprising that many people have different opinions about what the proper role of government should be.
While governments differ from country to country, they all share some characteristics. Governments may be run by one person (an autocracy, such as a monarchy), a select group of people (an aristocracy), or the whole people (a democracy, such as a republic). They can also be classified according to how they make their decisions: by consensus (anarchy), by voting (democracy) or through a combination of methods (feudalism and aristocracy).
In modern societies, government is often complex. The Constitutions of most countries and States set out the structure, powers and rules that govern the government of the country. The Constitutions also define how a government should be run and what the role of the citizens is in their government. The American Constitution is unique in that it includes a Bill of Rights, which lists the freedoms and rights all Americans are guaranteed by their government.
The government is made up of many departments, boards and agencies that are responsible for making the laws that govern the nation. A few of these departments include the White House, Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court. The President is the leader of the executive branch, while Congress is the legislative branch and the Supreme Court judges the legality of laws. The Cabinet is the group of ministers that advises the President on all major policy decisions. The judicial branch evaluates the laws and is composed of the Supreme Court Justices and all other courts.
Because of its size and the complexity of its policymaking process, the U.S. government has a large bureaucracy. This may be frustrating for some, but it is important that the government has a robust and efficient bureaucracy to help ensure all of its laws are enforced in a fair and equitable way. A robust and efficient bureaucracy also prevents interest-driven privatization, in which important agencies are turned over to private firms whose profits may conflict with governmental results.
As with other members of the public, sometimes government entities spend more than they bring in through taxes and fees. When this happens, the government must borrow money to cover its spending. This is done through the sale of securities to the public. Securities are like IOUs that a government body writes to the public, promising to repay the debt at a later date with interest added.