What Does a Government Do?

Governments are responsible for many critical tasks, including maintaining strict security at a country’s borders and within the nation. They also set laws and policies to promote the economic well-being of citizens. They may even provide social services to help people overcome challenges such as addiction and poverty. Governments are typically financed by taxes and fees that are collected from citizens and businesses. Those taxes and fees can be used to pay for things like roads, police and fire departments, schools, and national parks.

Some governments create regulations to protect consumers from unethical or unsafe practices by businesses. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires pharmaceutical companies to conduct rigorous human trials of new drugs before they are approved for sale to the public. Some sectors of the business community, however, have long complained that these regulations stifle innovation and discourage entrepreneurs from entering the market.

Another important role of most governments is providing social services, such as food, housing and medical care to the poor. These programs are controversial because critics argue that they undermine the responsibilities of individual citizens to take care of themselves and others.

People who work for a government can find a variety of benefits, including a retirement plan, paid vacation and sick days, health insurance, disability payments and child care assistance. Some employers even offer Employee Assistance Programs, which are free counseling services that help employees with problems such as alcohol or substance abuse, financial difficulties and job stress.

Different countries and states organize their governments differently. The founders of the United States established a system called federalism, which divides power between the national and state levels. Federalism allows the president to veto legislation created by Congress and nominate the heads of executive departments and high court appointees. The president also has the power to create boards, commissions and committees to help implement national policy and oversee state activities.

There are many theories about why governments exist and what sorts of rules are necessary or desirable. One theory is that governments first evolved to protect people from conflicts that could arise when they divided property or privileges. Governments also may have evolved to ensure that people respect each other.

What sort of rules, however, is another topic for debate. Some philosophers have suggested that governments should be organized as a form of hierarchy, with a monarchy, oligarchy or democracy on the top and a dictatorship or totalitarian regime at the bottom. Other theorists, however, have argued that governments should be organized according to the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that the lower levels of government must have greater autonomy in decision making than the upper levels. This is because the lower levels of government can more easily understand local conditions and priorities, and they can adjust laws to accommodate these realities. For example, a federal law might require that a new highway bypass be built in a city, while the local government would prefer to invest in a public school.