Government is the organization through which a country, state, city or town exercises authority and sets the rules. The word government comes from a Latin phrase meaning “rule of the people,” and it refers to the way adults choose to organize themselves for peace, stability and the provision of goods and services. Governments are typically organized into branches that focus on specific policy areas, and citizens elect representatives to make laws and run the business of governing. Governments can also set taxes and budget for civic projects, programs and services that are not funded by private businesses. They may also govern common goods, such as public parks or wildlife, which must be managed so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of these resources.
In the United States, people vote for representatives to local councils, state legislatures and Congress. These bodies pass legislation and raise funds to pay for police, fire and school systems, and roads and libraries. They can also impose laws, such as traffic tickets, that are enforced by municipal courts.
The framers of our Constitution designed a system of government where there are three branches: the legislative branch (Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives), the executive branch (President and Cabinet) and the judicial branch (Supreme Court and lower federal courts). This separation of powers and checks and balances makes it difficult for one branch to exercise too much power over another. If a member of Congress passes a law that a citizen disagrees with, the citizen can work to persuade the president to veto the bill, or she or he can try to win a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress to override the President’s veto and pass the bill.
Different forms of government have been developed throughout history to meet the needs of society and the political climate of a time. The main types of modern political regimes are democracies, totalitarian or authoritarian regimes and hybrid systems of the main three. Historically prevalent forms include monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy and oligarchy.
Aristotle discussed forms of government in his book Politics. He classified them according to who has the right to rule: a single person (autocracy), a select group of individuals (aristocracy) or the people as a whole (democracy). Governments are generally considered to be good for a society if they are fair, stable and democratic. They are bad for a society if they are autocratic, totalitarian or tyrannical. Governments are also judged on how they manage common goods, such as natural resources or public lands, and on whether their taxes, fees and fines are equitable. These factors are important when choosing a government for a community, region or nation. They are also important when assessing the effectiveness of the various branches of government, and whether they are meeting the people’s needs. Governments that are corrupt, inefficient or ineffective must be changed. This process of change takes patience, diligence and courage. The best government is a government that works for its citizens and serves their interests.