What Is Government?


Government is the people, laws, and officials that define and control the country you live in. Though governments vary widely, they all do the same thing: regulate what happens in public life and provide benefits that citizens can use in private life.

In the United States, our government provides stability and security through a military and police services, as well as education, health care, and an infrastructure for transportation. It also provides other valuable goods and services like mail service, public parks, and water treatment facilities. Many of these services are provided by local, state, and federal agencies. Some of them are free of charge, while others are provided through contributions made by citizens through taxes and fees.

Governments are also responsible for managing the country’s resources and the country’s environment. For example, the air quality agency monitors pollution in the atmosphere and works to reduce its harmful effects. The forest service manages the country’s natural resources by planting trees and restoring degraded areas. Governments are even involved in preserving and protecting cultural and natural landmarks, including the Taj Mahal in India and Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

Some people worry about too much government, but most understand that there are things that only a government can do. For example, governments are responsible for providing food, shelter, and medical care to the poor; for maintaining public roads and schools; and for ensuring that there is a legal system that is fair and accessible to all. They also make sure that the country’s borders are secure and safe, and that its citizens have a voice in how their government is run by allowing them to vote for their representatives and senators.

The way a government is structured determines how its decisions are made and what power it has. For example, in the United States, we have a constitutional republic with separation of powers and checks and balances. This means that a bill cannot become law until it is passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president (unless a president vetoes it, in which case the two-thirds majority of each house can override the veto).

One of the best ways to keep government from becoming too powerful is to have a structure that limits politicians’ ambitions. As James Madison explained in Federalist 51, “the structure of the government must furnish proper checks and balances between the various departments, lest any one faction gain too great a control over the Government.” Without this kind of structural protection, it would be very easy for a political party to take control of all branches of the government and make rash and dangerous decisions. This is why many people believe that “that government is best which governs least.” This is a sentiment expressed by the founders of our nation in their Gettysburg Address and by Henry David Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience.