A government is a structure through which leaders exercise power to make and enforce laws. Governments have a variety of functions, including providing leadership and public services, protecting the environment, promoting economic growth, and protecting national security. A country, state or municipality may have one form of government or multiple forms of government. Governments typically consist of a chief executive, legislative branch and judiciary. They are often divided into departments and agencies with specialized missions and functions. A government may be a democracy, republic, theocracy, monarchy or other types of political system.
The definition of government varies depending on the country and culture in which it exists. The most common definitions of the word refer to a group of people that share a particular territory and form a community, such as a nation, state or country. Governments also can be classified according to the way they exercise authority, with democratic, totalitarian and autocratic regimes as the main types of government recognized today. A government can be formed through an electoral process or hereditary succession, with the most common method being the electoral process.
While governments are often criticized for their bureaucracy and red tape, they also are seen as a source of stability, goods, services and protection. Governments protect citizens from violence by establishing police and fire departments, provide education, transport, mail service, food, housing and health care. They regulate the economy by creating rules for business and establishing taxes to pay for these things. Governments also set rules for how businesses can operate, preventing them from harming the environment or committing crimes such as racketeering and illegal immigration.
Governments provide a sense of community by making it possible for citizens to vote for representatives who will act on their behalf in the local, state or national legislature and Congress. They also establish policies and budgets for how tax dollars will be spent. On the local level, money is allotted to public schools, police and fire departments, and utilities such as water and electricity. At the state and federal level, the government sets policies for military, foreign policy, and education.
A key function of the federal government is to serve as a check and balance on the powers of the other two branches. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, “The framers of the Constitution made the president and the Congress coequal in the administration of the government but gave to each a sphere of action distinct from and independent of the other. This distribution of power prevents either branch from becoming too powerful or tyrannical.”