A government is a system of people, laws and officials that define and control the country you live in. The United States has a three-branched federal government, while other countries have different structures. What all governments do essentially the same thing: they establish and enforce rules that regulate how people behave in public life.
Governments can also provide goods and services that aren’t available in the private market, such as national security and education. Such “public goods” are essential to the operation of civilized society, because the private sector can’t supply them at a price low enough to meet the needs of all citizens.
Historically, governments grew large and powerful because they provided these basic goods and services for their citizens. To achieve this, they needed to assert their authority over vast distances, raise armies and gather taxes to pay them. As a result, bureaucracy grew along with civilization, as military and administrative specialists were tasked with managing these massive enterprises. Governments also centralized power to avoid the risk of local discontent, which might undermine their rule. The Founders of the United States created a system to prevent this from happening, by making sure that government was limited in size and scope.
There are many different styles of government, but the ones that work best include democracy (rule by the people), republics (elected representatives speak for us) and constitutions (documents that limit the power of government and guarantee our rights). These types of governments allow citizens to be involved in how their governments are run and set the rules of how they do business.
The people in a country elect representatives to serve on local councils, state legislatures and Congress. These bodies make laws to govern their jurisdictions and draft budgets to determine how to spend the money they receive from taxes. On the local level, funds are allotted for things like schools, police and fire departments, and mail service. On the federal level, funds are used for things such as national defense, welfare programs, and management of national parks.
If a government wants to support an ideal like egalitarianism, it may increase funding for schools and other social programs that promote equal treatment of all citizens. Alternatively, if it believes that national security is more important than individual liberty, it may authorize law enforcement agencies to tap citizens’ phones or restrict what newspapers can publish.
Whatever ideals a government supports, it must be financially sustainable. To do this, it collects taxes from citizens, which are usually paid through paycheck deductions or property and sales taxes. It must also be fair, meaning that it shouldn’t discriminate against racial or religious groups, and it must be accountable to its citizens by limiting the power of elected representatives and ensuring that those in office are held responsible for their actions. In addition, it must offer a wide variety of services that are essential to civilized society. This includes national security and education, but it could also include health care, food, housing and water.