The word government comes from the Latin for “leadership.” A government is an institution through which leaders exercise power to make laws. Its basic functions are providing leadership, maintaining order and supplying public services. It is also responsible for national security and economic assistance. Governments may be democratic, monarchical, autocratic or totalitarian.
A nation is a sizable group of people united by common bonds of race, language, custom or religion. The term state denotes a definite territory within a country with an organized government. There are many theories of how a state emerged. Some believe that states developed from families or tribes and then evolved into more formal groups. Others believe that a state developed to serve a particular need such as defense or the economy.
Governments are formed to manage a nation’s affairs and protect its citizens and property. Governments are made up of officials and employees whose jobs are to establish rules, oversee public life, create law enforcement and regulate private business activities. Governments are also responsible for managing the economy and foreign relations.
In the United States, there are three main branches of government: Congress (Legislative Branch), the President and the Cabinet. The president is the head of the government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president nominates members of the Cabinet, federal judges and ambassadors. The Senate reviews these nominations and gives “advice and consent” to them before they can take office. Congress passes laws, raises money and sets general policy for the country. The president vetoes some legislation but the laws that survive usually do so by passing both houses of Congress again.
The Cabinet and independent federal agencies are responsible for the day-to-day enforcement and administration of the laws passed by Congress. Examples include the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and Social Security. The President and Cabinet work together to solve larger problems, guide the country and help its citizens.
Many people receive government benefits, such as tax credits or lower rates on investment income. This is considered a form of government assistance and helps the economy because a dollar spent by the government can perform the same function as a dollar received by someone else.
Some countries have a one-party system of government, while others have a parliamentary system of government. The map below shows which type of government each country has. Governments have begun to recognize the value of releasing valuable information about their operations to the public. This is called open data and it makes it easier for citizens to connect with their governments.