Government, in its many forms, serves an essential purpose for societies around the world. It provides stability and vital goods and services, including police and fire protection, public education, and postal service, as well as national security and defense. Governments also create structures for citizens to make their needs and opinions known to their representatives, which is one of the core aspects that distinguishes democracy from an oligarchy, where the decision makers are not directly elected by the people.
The goals of governments vary widely, depending on the type of governing system: the rule of a single person (an autocracy); a small group of people that is elite or wealthy (an oligarchy); the people as a whole in a democracy (a republic); or any combination thereof. Governments also may be classified according to how they generate and spend funds.
A basic function of any form of government is to tax people on their income, property, and sales to generate revenue that can be spent to provide services. Local, county, state, and federal government bodies do this through a variety of means, from property taxes to payroll taxes to sales taxes and fees. Government entities often spend more money than they receive in cash, so they must borrow funds to cover expenditures. One way that they do this is by selling securities, such as bonds, to the general public. The bonds represent IOUs that the government body promises to repay in the future.
Governments regulate the behavior of businesses to prevent them from abusing people or damaging the environment. This regulation includes laws that prohibit racketeering, environmental abuses, bribery, and other illegal activities. Governments also regulate access to common goods, such as public land, for the benefit of all people. In addition, governments often serve as the only entity capable of providing certain goods and services that are not profitable for individual business ventures, such as national defense and education.
Governments are staffed by millions of workers, ranging from secretaries to firefighters. These workers are not paid as much as private-sector employees, but they receive benefits and the prestige of being part of a powerful institution that makes important decisions for society. Government workers are typically a diverse group that includes minorities, women, and the disabled. The CIA website offers information about different forms of government around the world. Those who study politics seek to define the characteristics of different types of government in order to analyze how they work and how they might be improved. The classification of government systems is an important area of research in political science, but it remains difficult to discern a clear definition. This is because most government systems have their roots in socio-economic movements that are carried into governance by parties with competing political ideologies. In addition, most governments have evolved from previous ones. This has made it impossible to create a typology of governments that is clear and unambiguous. Nevertheless, the efforts of scholars and practitioners to develop definitions of government remain important to understanding how these systems operate.