The Basics of Government


Government is the system by which an organized community — most often, a country — is ruled. Governments can take many forms, but generally they combine elements of direct and representative democracy to create and implement public policy and law. A government’s goals are to protect citizens’ property rights, promote voluntary exchange, and establish the rule of law — all of which are necessary for people to achieve prosperity. Governments also play a role in the economy by helping to keep prices stable through taxes and other regulatory mechanisms. In addition, governments may prevent monopolies and cartels by passing laws against them. In some cases, government actions may work against the efficiency of markets by restricting access to certain resources or reducing the incentives for individuals to trade with each other.

Governments are organized into three distinct branches: the legislative branch — comprising Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) — makes laws; the executive branch carries out those laws through the president and their Cabinet; and the judicial branch interprets laws, applies them to individual cases and determines whether they violate the Constitution. These divisions of authority are set forth in the United States’ Constitution and have been built upon over time.

The Constitution explains the way in which these functions are divided and aims to prevent one branch from having too much power. To balance this, the Framers also created a system of checks and balances. For example, the executive branch has the power to veto laws passed by the legislative branch, but the legislature can override that with two-thirds of the vote. This keeps the legislative and executive branches in check, and it also limits the ability of the Supreme Court to overturn the decisions made by the other branches.

In addition, the U.S. has a variety of local, state and regional government entities. For example, city councils oversee municipal budgeting for civic activities and projects; develop and pass city ordinances; and help the mayor and other leaders manage the municipality. In addition, county boards of supervisors supervise a region’s local government. State legislatures, meanwhile, pass state and local laws and oversee a state’s budget.

In general, most Republicans and Republican leaners say that government should do more to solve problems. A larger share of Democrats and Democratic leaners, however, believe that government is doing too many things that would be better left to businesses and individuals. This divide has persisted since 2015.