What Is Government?

Government is the institution that leaders of a country or other political community use to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that people in that society need. It also includes the rules and policies that define how that institution functions. Governments are responsible for the safety and security of a nation, for establishing and maintaining order, and for providing social services. Governments can take many different forms, but in the United States we have a Constitution that describes the form and function of our federal government.

The responsibilities of our government are based on the principles of democracy, liberty and justice. The Constitution assigns Congress responsibility for making laws, raising revenue, declaring war, and regulating interstate commerce. It also provides that the President will veto specific legislative acts and that Congress can override those vetoes with a two-thirds majority vote of both Houses. The Constitution also establishes a Cabinet to advise the President on all major issues. The Cabinet consists of the Vice President and heads of the executive departments, including the armed forces. The Supreme Court and other courts are independent of the Cabinet, and evaluate the legality and effectiveness of laws.

Because a market cannot produce all the goods needed by every citizen, and because it is impossible for individuals to protect themselves against outside attack, governments have an important role to play in the life of civilized nations. Governments must provide such common goods as education, health care and infrastructure for transportation, among other things. They must also guard against the overexploitation of natural resources, such as fish in the sea and clean air. Governments can impose taxes and regulations that limit the use of natural resources. They can also set standards for quality and efficiency that private companies must meet to do business with the government.

In addition, a government must make sure that its citizens can enjoy the freedoms, rights and protections established in the Constitution. In this way a government must act as the conscience of its people. Governments can help provide for the general welfare of its citizens by ensuring that all children are educated, that all citizens have health care and that the population is not growing too fast to be sustainable. Governments can also help to alleviate poverty through welfare programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and national medical care.

There are many different styles of government, including monarchy, dictatorship, feudalism, communism and democracy. Each nation has its own unique mix of characteristics. The most commonly recognized types of modern government are democracies and totalitarian regimes, with a wide range of hybrid systems that can be classified as neither one of them nor both. Historically, there have been more varied forms of government: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, and plutocracy.