Government Responsibilities


Governments have a broad range of responsibilities. They provide services that people cannot easily or economically provide for themselves, including military defense, fire and police departments, roads, education, and social services. They also collect taxes and charge for many of the services they provide, and when their cash revenues are not sufficient to fund desired programs, governments borrow money. In addition, the legislative branch can authorize spending on particular projects, a practice known as “earmarking.”

People may believe that government is necessary and desirable for a variety of reasons. Some people believe that without a government, some citizens would be harmed or exploited by other individuals or by businesses. Others believe that a government should focus on promoting the general welfare by creating a system of laws and regulations that protects the rights of all citizens. Still others may believe that a government should serve the interests of its citizens by providing essential services, such as public education, health care, and a clean environment.

Regardless of the specific functions or beliefs of a government, all governments create rules. These rules can include principles like majority rule with minority rights, accountability of elected and appointed officials, economic freedom, a Bill of Rights, and limited government and checks and balances.

When most people hear the word “government,” they think of a country’s legislature, executive, and judicial branches. The people who work in the nation’s legislature, for example, are called lawmakers in America and MPs in Britain. The executive branch consists of the President and his or her cabinet members. The judicial branch, which includes federal district courts and the Supreme Court, interprets and applies laws.

Many states and local governments have their own legislatures, executive branches, and judicial branches. Local governments, such as city councils and township boards of supervisors, also operate schools, libraries, parks, and community centers. They may also provide housing for the poor and social services to residents in need. The municipal courts handle low-level violations, such as traffic tickets, while cases that violate state law escalate to higher-level districts, circuit courts, and the state Supreme Court.

The responsibilities of the national government vary depending on the political ideology of those who make up its legislative, executive, and judicial branches. If, for example, the country subscribes to the principle of egalitarianism, then it will promote policies that give women equal pay and a minimum standard of living, as well as provide public education and healthcare. If the country believes that liberty is more important than security, then it will restrict how far law enforcement agencies can tap people’s phones and limit what newspapers may publish.

Most Americans (59%) say that the government is doing too many things that are better left to businesses and individuals. The share who say this has remained unchanged since 2019, while the percentage who say the government should do more to solve problems has grown slightly. These and other findings are from two new national surveys conducted by Pew Research Center.