Government is the system of order for a nation, state, or other political unit. Its responsibilities include creating and enforcing rules for society, protecting citizens, dealing with foreign affairs, managing the economy, and providing public services. Different governments have varying ways of carrying out those duties. Governments are typically organized into branches, or institutions with distinct powers, functions, and responsibilities. The distribution of these branches is one of the key differences between types of governments. A system of checks and balances keeps one branch from becoming too powerful.
The United States Constitution breaks down government into three large branches: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. Each branch has many smaller branches as well. The founding fathers created these three branches to make sure the government had a structure that would work well. They knew that if any one of these branches had too much power, it could lead to big problems. The founders also knew that making a law was a long process, and they wanted to give citizens multiple chances to influence laws as they traveled through the policymaking pipeline. The founders hoped that this system of checks and balances, called separation of powers, would help to keep the government honest.
Separation of powers is not unique to the United States, and many other countries use this system. Some governments have only two or three branches; others have a larger number. Generally, the more a country has, the more difficult it is to change its form of government.
In the United States, Congress is the largest branch of our federal government, and it is responsible for drafting laws. Congress has the power to raise taxes and authorize borrowing, and it can establish a budget for the entire government or just for a specific department. Congress also has the power to mandate spending on particular projects. These directives are often referred to as “earmarks.”
As part of its role, the United States Government provides public goods, or services, such as national security, education, and mail service. These are services that are too expensive to provide on the private market. For example, it is impossible for a business to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. Likewise, it is impractical for a private company to offer health care to all its employees, or housing and food to the poor. Governments are able to provide these services because of their size and ability to tax and compel citizen compliance.
Some people argue that the United States Government goes too far by providing social programs such as welfare and medical insurance, which allow individuals to receive benefits that they cannot afford on their own. Other people argue that the social programs are an important way to reduce poverty and inequality in the country. Regardless of your opinion, it is important to understand the role of government in our daily lives.