The Responsibilities of Government

Government is the system that makes and enforces the rules of an organized community. In the United States, the Constitution describes how the federal government works. It divides the responsibilities of government into three branches—legislative, executive, and judicial. The responsibilities of each branch overlap, but the Constitution limits the power of each. Governments exist to create and enforce the laws of a country or other political unit, protect people from attack or harm, and provide public goods and services such as education, health care, roads, and mail service.

Governments may also control the economy and manage foreign relations. Governments are found all over the world, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some governments are democratic, while others are autocratic or socialist. In general, most people like the security and comforts provided by their local or national government. They pay taxes to help fund the work of the government and may choose leaders they believe best serve their interests.

Some people think they can live without government, which is called libertarianism. However, most adults agree that a society needs a group that decides the rules that everyone must follow and that judges any disputes over property rights or other issues. Governments are also responsible for preserving common goods, such as fish in the sea and clean air, which all people can use free of charge but that are in limited supply.

At the state and local levels, governments provide public education, road maintenance, fire protection, and police enforcement. At the federal level, Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) passes bills that become laws. Each bill goes through a process of research, discussion, changes, and voting before it becomes law. If a bill is opposed by the president, he or she uses the power of veto to reject it. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. This system of checks and balances keeps each branch from becoming too powerful.

In addition to enforcing its own laws, the United States government has an important role in the international community. Diplomats meet with other leaders to discuss problems and disagreements, which can lead to peace agreements or commercial contracts. Governments also maintain armed forces to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks or natural disasters, such as earthquakes or hurricanes.

In many countries, the responsibilities of government are divided into the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Some people think that this separation of powers is ideal, but in reality, governmental power is too complex and interrelated to be separated into neat compartments. Throughout history, there has been an ebb and flow of preeminence among the branches. For example, the Supreme Court has sometimes rejected or overturned laws that the president has vetoed. This is known as judicial review. In other cases, the courts have ruled that Congress has passed unconstitutional laws. This is a result of the constitutional structure that Congress designed to limit its power. Governments have a great deal of responsibility but they can be dangerous to human rights, as we see in dictatorships or other regimes.