A government is an organization through which leaders exercise power to make laws. It is the entity that defines and enforces social and economic rules for a sizable group of people, known as a nation, state or country. Governments also play a role in addressing national defense, environmental concerns and helping to make markets more competitive. Many governments also redistribute income.
The role of government has evolved over time. Aside from the traditional security roles, it now encompasses a variety of other functions, including education, health care and public works. Some of these functions are based on common interests and can be provided by private companies or individuals, while others require the special capabilities that only government can provide.
Governments raise money for the services they offer by taxing citizens. They also borrow from the public by selling securities, such as bonds. The money they collect is disbursed to local, state and national agencies that then use it to provide a wide range of services. For example, city councils, county commissions and the federal Congress allocate funds for things like police departments, firefighting forces, schools, highway construction and wildlife management.
Some of the most important things that governments do are regulating public access to natural resources such as water, land and wildlife. Because these resources are not available in unlimited supply, it is not possible for any single person to take as much as he or she wants without reducing the availability for everyone else. Therefore, governments must create rules that allow for the equitable sharing of these resources.
Aside from regulating access to these natural resources, governments also provide services such as national defense, addressing environmental concerns and defining property rights. Governments also have a role in making markets more competitive by providing infrastructure and establishing standards of quality for products and services. They also play a role in limiting the power of corrupt or incompetent officials through checks and balances and the use of a free press.
The scope of what a government can do is limited by the powers and limitations that are laid out in its constitution. However, there are other societal expectations that go beyond the basic constitutional limits. For example, there is a widely held belief that the government should respond to natural disasters, keep people safe from terrorism and robbery, and help alleviate poverty.
A government’s effectiveness is measured by the extent to which it satisfies the needs of its constituents. For example, most Americans say that the federal government does a good job responding to natural disasters and keeping the country safe from terrorism and robbery, while fewer Americans feel that way about their local governments, state universities and colleges and maintaining roads and bridges. The American public also believes that the federal government does a better job than most local and state governments of providing a safety net for people who can’t afford to support themselves.