The Basics of Government

Government is a system of rules and laws created to protect people and their property from conflicts, provide law and order, and make sure everyone plays by the same rules. Government also provides many valuable goods and services that people may need or want but cannot produce for themselves, like public education, firefighting, transportation, postal service, food, housing, and health care (Figure 1.2). In the United States, federal, state, and local governments all receive funds from citizens to do their jobs. At each level, representatives elected by the citizens try to secure enough money for priorities they think will help people most. For example, on the state level, money may be allocated for things like building new schools or roads, hiring more police officers, or managing national parks.

The founding fathers of the United States designed a system of government called a republic. This is a form of representative democracy, which means that a few people out of everyone in the country are elected to make laws for all of us. This group is called the Congress. The Congress has two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate. States with more people get more representatives, and the number of members changes every 10 years.

People have always wanted to live together peacefully, but they have been unable to do so without some kind of rules to ensure that people don’t fight over property and other issues. Over time, people began to realize that it was easier to keep peace if they recognized the right of one person or group to control a certain territory (later known as a nation), which is the origin of the concept of sovereignty.

Governments have evolved in response to these needs, and the modern world has several types of political systems to choose from. These include democracies, totalitarian regimes, and a variety of hybrid forms of these two main kinds of government.

Besides setting the general policy for its country or state, a government must decide how to put this policy into practice. The main tools used to do this are laws and budgets. Laws are the fundamental way that a government makes decisions about what to do, while budgets dictate how much money it can afford to spend.

In addition to making laws and budgets, a government must establish what values it is going to stand for. This is important, because a government’s values determine how it will deal with different problems. For example, if a government values equality, it will be more likely to raise taxes so that people can pay for things like public education and transportation. On the other hand, if a government values liberty, it will be less likely to tap people’s phones or restrict what the media publishes.

The responsibilities of the government are shared between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The legislative branch makes the rules, which are then enforced by the executive branch, which consists of the president and his or her cabinet, and the judicial branch, which evaluates legal issues.