Understanding the Basics of Government


A government is a body, entity or agency invested with the power to manage and steer a political unit, organization or most commonly, a State. It can be characterized as a monarchy, oligarchy, democracy (direct or representative), autocracy, communism and socialism. Each of these types of government has evolved over time as conditions and circumstances changed. Regardless of the type of government, it is essential to understand its role in society as well as its limitations.

Government is necessary for human society to function. It serves many vital purposes including defining, establishing and enforcing property rights; providing infrastructure such as roads, highways, water supply, electricity and telephone service; regulating interstate and foreign commerce; imposing taxes and levying military and civil services. Government also provides solutions to problems that cannot be solved by markets alone. For example, environmental pollution can be regulated by government agencies to protect human health. Governments can also promote economic freedom by ensuring that private ownership of land and businesses is protected. This allows for a greater range of goods and services to be available to consumers.

The form of government that exists in a country is determined by its constitution and laws. In democracies, citizens elect their leaders and participate in politics. The government makes laws based on majority rule, but respects the opinions of minority groups. It is accountable to its citizens through elections and laws that establish checks and balances. It aims to minimize the influence of wealth and other interests on politics.

In republics that have a federal system, the constitution defines the national law but leaves some matters to the individual states or provinces to legislate on. The federal government may have some limited powers, such as the power to declare war and regulate interstate commerce. However, each state or province can make its own laws that do not conflict with the federal ones.

Most governments have three separate but equal branches: the legislative branch (makes the laws), the executive branch (enforces the laws) and the judicial branch (interprets the laws). This structure prevents one faction from controlling the government. It was a major reason James Madison, author of “The Federalist Papers,” recommended the separation of powers in his writings. It is impossible to make politicians angels who would never try to grab more power than they should have, so the best way to keep them in check is to structure government in a way that requires their competing ambitions to collide.

Most partisans agree that the size of government should be limited, but they disagree on how that should happen. For instance, Republicans are more uniformly supportive of a substantial government role than Democrats. They are also more likely to favor a larger role in all of the 10 areas we asked about.