The Role of Government

The term government refers to the rules and structures that manage the dispensation of power (politics) in a community or state. It also manages the dispensation of wealth (economics) and social status, and it provides goods and services that citizens cannot easily provide themselves (public goods). Government consists of the national level framed by the Constitution, the state level and the local level. Governments can be categorized according to the people who control the power of the government: one person (an autocracy, such as a monarchy), a select group of people (an aristocracy) or the people as a whole (a democracy, such as a republic).

The main role of governments is to protect individuals and their property from others who might harm them. This role also extends to protecting the environment, although this is not always a priority for governments. In addition, governments provide public goods, such as the military, police and fire departments, education and mail service. These are important for maintaining stability, providing security and promoting the economic prosperity of a nation.

Many governments also redistribute income to those who may not be working or are unemployed (unemployment insurance and social security) or to those with low incomes (tax breaks for homebuyers). This helps to maintain the economy and balance out the distribution of wealth. However, this can lead to political controversy over how much government should do this and whether it is fair for some to receive more benefits than others.

Another role of the government is to resolve disputes between individuals or groups that are too heated for them to compromise on privately and too destructive to allow to fester. The courts are a part of the government that handles these disputes.

In the United States, the federal government, state governments and city governments all have different roles, but they all have similar characteristics. Each of them makes laws to govern their jurisdictions, passes measures to raise money (including taxes on income and sales), and drafts budgets that outline how the money collected will be spent for services.

The federal government is a large employer with a lot of job security, especially during recessions or economic crashes. Government employees have great benefits like generous sick and annual leave that increases with years of service, and the ability to transfer between different jobs in the federal government without losing their current salary. They can also take time off to serve in the military or volunteer for a cause they believe in. These benefits are not available to most private-sector employees. The branches of the federal government work together to check each other’s power through a system of checks and balances. The President may declare Executive Orders and make federal judges, but the Senate in the legislative branch must approve those nominations, and Congress can pass laws to overturn executive and judicial actions. See the Levels of Government Ladder handout for more information.