What Is Government?


Government is a system of rules that constrain human behavior in a wide range of ways. These constraints are generally intended to help humans achieve some mutually positive collective outcome. Government is found at many levels, including national, state, and local.

A nation is a group of people united by a common language, customs, or religion. A state is a large area whose residents are united under the authority of a single government. A country is a large geographical unit whose residents are united under the authority of one or more governments. Governments may exist for a variety of reasons, including the need to protect individual rights and provide economic security, public services, and national defense.

Some governments impose laws to protect their citizens from harmful practices. For example, they may require that a certain amount of money be donated to charity or set minimum wages for employees. Governments also create and enforce consumer-protection, worker-safety, and environmental laws. Businesses often complain about these restrictions and lobby to have them changed in their favor.

In addition to protecting the citizens of their countries, most governments also provide public goods such as education, health care, and transportation. Some also protect individual rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly. These features of a government are typically described in a document called a constitution, which sets out the basic principles and philosophy of the organization.

Most government agencies, whether at the federal, state, or local level, receive funding from the citizens they serve. The people send the money to the agency through their representatives, who then allocate the funds for specific purposes. For example, a state government might allocate some of its funding for the maintenance of state colleges and universities, while another portion might be designated for wildlife management or the construction of new roads. The federal government, meanwhile, funds things such as the military, Social Security, and veterans’ pensions, along with research into diseases like cancer and global poverty.

Working in the federal government can be a challenging and rewarding career. The work requires employees who have the ability to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, excel at teamwork, and are able to think strategically. Federal jobs offer a competitive salary, excellent benefits, and the opportunity to make a real difference in Americans’ lives.

Find out if you’re eligible for programs that help you afford food, housing, medicine and utilities. Learn how to apply for these federal and state benefits through AARP Foundation’s Benefits QuickLINK.