Government is the organization through which a country or state exercises authority and performs functions. Governments are formed in many ways, including monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship, republic (representative democracy), constitutional republic, socialism, communism and fascism. The most fundamental feature of any government is that it is composed of officials who exercise power over a political unit, called an entity or a state.
People rely on their governments to provide them with the basic necessities of life. These benefits include clean water, a stable currency, health care and education. Most of the time, these services are so reliable that we take them for granted. Whether we realize it or not, government also plays a critical role in our economy. Governments subsidize some industries and make loans to individuals and businesses to promote growth. They also regulate the market to ensure fairness and safety. In the United States, our federal government protects us from foreign threats and promotes a strong domestic economy through tax breaks and regulations.
The traditional role of government has been to protect citizens from violence and the worst vicissitudes of life. More recently, we have come to think of government as a provider of public goods and services. These include public education, military protection and national parks. These services are provided to all citizens regardless of wealth, and the costs are incurred by all taxpayers through taxes. Governments also provide financial security for old age and disability. This concept of government as a provider has led to a new debate about how big government should be.
One school of thought says that the size of government should be small so as not to interfere with private enterprise and individual freedoms. The other school of thought says that government should be large enough to meet the most pressing needs of society. Neither of these ideas are right or wrong, but there is growing consensus that our current system of government is not working well. The problem, according to many scholars, is that the three branches of our government are not working together as they should. Peabody points out that if the democratic system is going to be effective, there must be a basic level of mutual tolerance between the members of the three branches.
The major challenge facing government is to develop new roles that are more appropriate for our times. The old ones have become outmoded, such as managing externalities and addressing market failures. Too often, the government only intervenes when problems occur, which results in a costly delay before action is taken. In the future, government should continue to provide public goods and services, but it should also invest in citizen capabilities so that they are able to meet their own needs in rapidly changing circumstances. These changes will require an adjustment of government’s relationship with the markets and with society. The role of government will also be shaped by emerging technologies, such as e-government and the use of information and communications technology to deliver services.