Government is the system of people and laws that define and control a nation. It establishes and enforces rules and regulations that control what happens in public life, though the laws it creates can also affect private behavior. It can also provide goods and services, maintain safety and security, and protect the environment. It also provides a structure by which citizens can participate in public affairs and voice their opinions. Governments are found throughout the world, and many share certain characteristics.
Governments vary in size and structure. They are organized into distinct institutions called branches of government, with specific powers, functions, and duties. Separation of powers ensures that no one branch has too much power. This is known as checks and balances. Governments also have different methods for making laws, which determine how the policies are created and implemented.
There are several types of governments, including monarchies, republics, and democracies. A democratic government allows the people to elect their representatives, while a monarchy places power in the hands of a hereditary king or queen and controls the economy through taxation and royal decrees. A tyranny is an authoritarian form of government, while a fascist state is a dictatorship.
Some of the most significant differences between government types are how decisions are made and how the citizens have a say in the direction of the country. For example, in a democracy, decisions are made through majority rule, but the minority is protected and has the right to express its views. Representatives are accountable to the citizenry, and checks and balances limit the power of government officials.
In addition to limiting the power of government officials, most governments guarantee the rights and freedoms of their citizens. For instance, the United States Constitution guarantees that citizens have free speech and the right to vote. Other common characteristics of good government include economic freedom, equal treatment for all citizens, limited government and a bill of rights, and a separation of church and state.
Most modern, developed nations have a government that is structured by the separation of power into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each branch has specific duties and responsibilities, but the branches interact with each other to make policy and to enforce the law. For example, Congress makes laws, but the President must approve all presidential appointees, and the Supreme Court evaluates those laws.
The United States has a federal system of government with agencies that oversee the country’s services, from agriculture to treasury to education. The agencies often hire people who have skills and knowledge in specialized areas, such as statisticians working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics or physicians working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Government programs are available to help with essential living expenses, such as food, housing and medicine. To learn about the programs available in your area, visit AARP Foundation’s Benefits QuickLINK or your state’s social service agency.