Government is the political direction and control exercised over people, communities, and states. It is necessary for the existence of civilized societies. Governing involves creating and maintaining law, regulating the economy, protecting individuals, and providing public services. Whether it is a democracy, a republic, a monarchy, a dictatorship, or some other form of rule, all governments have similar duties.
The type of government depends on a country’s culture, history, and values. Some countries, such as the United States, have many democratic principles. Those values include the freedoms of speech and press, the right to vote, and the separation of powers in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Other countries have more autocratic forms of government, such as a dictatorship or an oligarchy. In general, a democracy requires a large number of citizens who are educated and active in politics.
A government has many functions, but the most important are regulating the economy and providing public goods and services. In the United States, these services include public education, police and fire departments, roads, mail service, and food, housing, and health care for the poor. These services are often provided without charge. Government protects goods that people may use free of charge but are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water. The government also protects private property rights, and provides laws to prevent theft and robbery. The type of government that a nation chooses to have depends on the culture, values, and goals of its citizens.
In addition to the protection of private property and the provision of public goods, most governments also make laws to ensure individual freedoms. For example, the US has laws to prohibit discrimination, and the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press. These freedoms are protected by the judicial branch, which judges legal disputes and makes sure that laws comply with constitutional principles.
Another function of government is to provide protection from invasions of privacy. For example, a court may restrict the way that police can use information about citizens. The government can also protect people’s liberty by preventing the use of chemical weapons like DDT and PCBs, which have been shown to harm people.
The national, state, and local levels of a nation’s government are called the three levels of government. Each level has a different role, but they all share a common goal of ensuring security, prosperity, and the well-being of their citizens. To help students understand the hierarchy of these governmental bodies, show them this chart: Levels of Government Ladder. Then discuss the concepts of checks and balances, which means that each level of government cannot pass laws that conflict with the decisions/laws made by the level above it. This is illustrated by the fact that the President nominates Supreme Court justices and Congress approves them. The judicial branch then evaluates the laws passed by Congress and the states.