What Is Government?

Government is the system of people, laws and officials that define the country you live in. It is responsible for putting policy into practice and enforcing the rules that keep your society civilized. Governments around the world set national goals and provide services that help citizens meet their needs, such as education, health care and an infrastructure for transportation. Governments also ensure the security of the nation, protect its borders and provide a safe place to raise children.

The word government comes from the Latin word gubernare, meaning to steer a ship or vessel. Historically, different types of governments have been organized to manage political units, organizations or, more commonly, States. Governments can be described as democracies, totalitarian regimes or, at the other end of the spectrum, authoritarian regimes, with a range of hybrid systems in between these two extremes.

Governments first evolved as people discovered that it was easier to protect themselves if they stayed together in groups. These groups became communities and later countries, with each having a recognized right to sovereignty, or the right to govern itself independently of other nations. Governments make laws, establish and enforce a judicial system that lists the actions that are against the law, and have police forces to prevent and punish crime. They can also provide public goods and services such as food, water and housing, as well as stability in times of crisis and prosperity for the citizens they represent.

Most government systems include some type of legislature that drafts laws and oversees their implementation by executive branch agencies. The legislative body, or parliament, is the most important institution in many countries. The head of the parliament is called the Prime Minister who, in turn, appoints ministers to carry out the policies it passes. These departments and their employees are then accountable to the parliament.

To finance these activities, Congress imposes taxes and tariffs to generate income and may authorize the borrowing of funds to cover expenses that are not covered by revenue. These funds are often distributed to federal, state and local governments to support services such as fire and police departments.

In the United States, the government provides a host of other valuable services including education, public transportation, mail service and health care for the poor and elderly. It also maintains the country’s military infrastructure and protects its borders. It is common for governments to regulate what happens in private life, too.

For example, the government establishes and enforces the laws that determine who can marry and where you can work. These laws are designed to protect individuals, businesses and communities from the harmful effects of amoral behavior. If you think a rule is wrong, you can try to change it by working with the legislators who make them. Governments are often described as both friend and foe of business, providing financial and advisory support while also creating and enforcing consumer-protection and worker-safety laws that may conflict with business interests.