The Basics of Government

Government is the set of people and processes that directs the lives of citizens in a country or community. It provides stability and a structure through which goods and services can be delivered to everyone. Governments come in many shapes and sizes, but all of them serve the same basic function.

People elect representatives to govern them at the city, state and national level. These bodies make laws to regulate behavior and provide services, such as education, police and fire departments, and parks and recreation areas. They also raise money by imposing taxes on income and property sales.

The founders of our country set up a system of government with three branches: the executive, legislative and judicial. They believed that making any one branch too powerful caused big problems, so they designed rules to prevent over-zealous officials from exercising power without the other two branches checking them. This system of checks and balances is called the separation of powers.

Besides providing the essential services, the government protects the “commons.” These are goods that are available to all without charge but are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea or clean drinking water. The government is also responsible for defending the nation from attack and creating plans to win wars. Government can only be effective in protecting these commons when all its citizens believe it is legitimate to participate in the political process. This involves a set of beliefs and behaviors that scholars call mutual toleration, forbearance, and pragmatism.

At the local level, government is organized into city councils and mayors’ offices, which make laws and allocate funds for municipal functions, including streets, utilities, and libraries. They may also pass ordinances to reduce crime and promote healthy lifestyles. Local government also operates courts that handle lower-level cases like traffic tickets or divorces. When the case involves a violation of state law, it is passed to higher-level district and circuit courts.

A key part of the government is the legislative branch, which consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. When the two houses of Congress approve a bill, it becomes a law when signed by the president.

A state’s judicial branch consists of Supreme Court justices, appeals judges and district court judges. These judges interpret and apply the state’s laws. The judicial branch also hears cases brought by the people against the state’s officers and employees, including attorneys general and state legislators. The judicial branch is not an elected body, but it is accountable to the legislature. In addition, the judges and prosecuting attorneys must be ethical, or they risk losing their jobs. Each court must be independent and impartial, so that the law is applied fairly to all citizens. Each judge is bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct, which includes principles such as honesty, integrity and fairness. A judge who does not uphold the Code of Conduct can be impeached by the legislature and removed from office.