Governments have been around for thousands of years, and even though they look very different from one country to the next, they all share the same central function: to lead, protect, and provide benefits for their citizens. The specifics of how governments do this vary widely. For example, democracies put the power of decision-making in the hands of the people, while authoritarian governments concentrate decision-making in the hands of a few (often a single political party or leader). However, they all share a common core: they establish and enforce the rules that define what citizens may and may not do.
The most basic definition of government is those who rule over a territory, whether it be a small community or a large continent (like Australia and India). In the simplest cases, this means that the people who rule have a deed that describes what land they own and how it can be used. They can also grant this right to other people. Some believe that the people have a natural right to hold their land without any deeds, while others believe that the right to own land should be limited and only granted by law.
Governments at all levels make laws and enforce them, and they also allocate money for the things that need to be done. On the local level, this might include funding for police and fire services, libraries, road maintenance, and health care. On the state and national levels, they fund things like education, defense, social security, and national parks. The people elect representatives who make decisions for them, and those officials try to secure funding for the things that their constituents value most.
One important job that government does is to regulate access to “common goods” such as water, clean air, fish in the ocean, and public lands. These are the kinds of resources that everyone can use freely but that are in limited supply; if too many people take them all, there will not be enough left for everyone. Governments do not ask for payment before they deliver these benefits to the population, and if there is a need for additional services, they can be provided.
Another crucial job of government is protecting the people from threats both internal and external. This involves maintaining armed forces, conducting intelligence activities, and keeping track of who is entering and leaving the country. Governments are also responsible for preserving their borders against invading forces, and they work to prevent the spread of diseases and other dangers.
The last but not least important role of government is that of preserver of the common heritage. This includes preserving cultural and natural sites of historical significance, managing natural resources, and ensuring that the economy is competitive and innovative. These roles are essential for a strong and healthy society. The more we understand how to create, sustain, and evolve good governments, the more likely it is that they will be able to respond to the challenges of our ever-changing world.