What Is a Government?

Governments set the rules that people live by and make sure those rules are followed. They also judge any conflicts between the rules. They provide stability, protect citizens from external threats and give citizens a chance to enjoy life and prosper. Governments may be as small as a town or village, as large as a nation or continent, or as complex as a multi-layered democratic republic.

The word “government” is derived from the Latin locution gubernare (“to steer a ship”). It is an entity invested with the power to manage a political unit, such as a country or organization. Governments are typically classified by the number of people who have the power to rule: a single person (monarchy), a select group of individuals (oligarchy), or a majority of the population in general (democracy). Governments also vary by what kind of laws they make and the rights of citizens they protect.

People who agree with a particular philosophy about how a society should be organized form governments to run it. They decide what kind of laws they will make and what kinds of punishments they will have for breaking those laws. They organize the police force to enforce the laws and keep order, and they establish systems of education to teach children and adults about the laws and how they are intended to be obeyed.

Governments are also responsible for the economy of a country and its people. They collect taxes from the people and issue currency. They create a structure by which goods and services can be made available to the people, even those things that cannot be produced or sold in the market due to their scarcity. These are called public goods. Governments also spend money on things such as national security, defense, social security, and managing national parks.

When governments do not have enough money to pay for all of the programs they want to run, they raise funds by levying taxes on the people. They may also authorize borrowing. They spend the money on things that benefit the people, such as public education, fire and police departments, road maintenance, and care for the elderly. Representatives elected by the people serve on city councils, state legislatures, and Congress, and they try to secure funding for the needs of their constituents.

Many people who believe in democracy think that the government should be limited in its powers and that all citizens have the right to own property. They support the idea that the government should be run by a system of checks and balances so that no one branch of the government has too much control over the others. This is often referred to as the separation of powers. Another important belief is that all people are equal and should be treated as such, regardless of their economic status or race. These beliefs are known as egalitarianism. Lastly, they believe that the people should have a say in how their government is run through voting and other forms of popular participation.