Governments set the rules that determine how people live in the countries they control. They also enforce those rules. Governments are primarily concerned with public life, though they do regulate private life as well.
One of the most important things a government does is protect its citizens from threats, whether real or perceived. Governments do this by building armies, patrolling roads and skies, enforcing laws, and providing fire and police services. Most governments also guarantee their citizens freedom of speech and the press, as well as the right to vote.
The government also provides some goods that are too costly for private businesses to provide. These goods are called public goods, such as national security and education. Governments can provide these goods because they have access to large numbers of employees and resources that a private business cannot easily mobilize. Governments also have a responsibility to regulate public access to certain natural resources, such as wildlife and public lands. The government can do this because it has the ability to tax and to compel citizen compliance.
While many of the duties of government are controversial, most Americans support a strong role for the federal government in general. The size of the role varies by partisanship, however. Democrats and independents are more uniformly supportive of a substantial role for the government than Republicans.
In the United States, government operates at three levels: local, state and federal. The federal government controls national defense, foreign policy and minting money. State governments oversee things like schools, libraries and transportation infrastructure, while the local government manages elections and public safety. Governments at the local and state levels are elected by citizens who are responsible for securing funding for their areas.
It is also important to note that the United States has a system of checks and balances for its branches of government. The legislative branch (Congress and the Senate) makes the laws, while the executive branch (the President and Cabinet) carries them out and the judicial branch interprets those laws. This helps ensure that the various branches of government do not overstep their boundaries.
Another important area of debate is the extent to which a government should care for its people. The government of the United States, along with most other developed countries, provides social programs such as medical insurance and welfare benefits. Some people believe these programs are essential to a healthy society, while others feel they create dependency and do not encourage personal responsibility.