What Responsibilities Does a Government Have?


The government is the entity that enforces laws and regulations, controls access to resources, and provides for public goods such as education, health care and infrastructure. It also protects citizens’ rights, such as freedom of speech and religion. Governments also perform important functions to keep the economy stable, regulate the private sector and encourage entrepreneurship. While some of these functions are largely ceremonial or ceremonious, others are vital to the operation of a civilized society.

Governments can take many forms, from the government of one (an autocracy), to a select group of people (an aristocracy) or to the people as a whole (a democracy). The form a society takes depends on its culture and the types of goods and services that it needs to provide to its members.

Traditionally, governments have been viewed as necessary to provide law and order, control access to resources, and protect property. The question of whether a more comprehensive role for government is desirable has always been a subject of debate.

However, in recent times, the debate has focused on the extent to which government should intervene in economic affairs and whether or not existing interventions are effective. The current pause, and perhaps reversal, in the trend toward increased state intervention offers an opportunity for a thorough reexamination of what should be the government’s role.

While the specific responsibilities of different governments vary widely, most involve some combination of the following activities:

Provision of public services and goods – regulating and managing key expenditures to deliver essential social and environmental services such as healthcare, education, sanitation and the development of infrastructure. Economic regulation – ensuring economic stability, protecting consumers, upholding fair competition and encouraging entrepreneurship. Law and order – providing police forces to enforce laws and secure property and ensure that all citizens can enjoy the same rights and liberties, including freedom of speech and religion.

The extent to which a government can meet its responsibilities is limited by the abilities of the market to supply the needed goods and services in large enough quantities or at low enough prices. In addition, the market cannot provide certain kinds of goods and services that are crucial to human life, such as national security, education and health care. Governments can fill these gaps by enacting laws that compel businesses and individuals to contribute to their creation.

Governments have a fundamental responsibility to the public, and this obligation extends to all aspects of their activity, including their decisions and policies. The right to know how those decisions are made, and the documents and statistics that lead to them, is central to a free society. That principle should not be undermined by attempts to conceal information under the guise of confidentiality or privacy. This article aims to reclaim this right.