Government is the system of people who manage a political unit or organization, usually called a State. The word comes from the Latin locution gubernare, which means “steer a ship or vessel.” Governments come in many forms, but most involve some type of organized structure through which leaders have authority to make and enforce laws. There are a number of different theories about how governments came to be formed, and they are often classified according to whether they are run by one person (autocracy), a select group of people (oligarchy), or the entire population of citizens (democracy).
Governments are responsible for developing and implementing policy and drafting laws. They are also tasked with maintaining the nation’s security, providing essential public services, and assisting in economic development. Governments are financed through taxes, which are collected from the private sector and distributed to those who need it. Governments may also provide social programs, such as unemployment insurance and medical benefits. Historically, the role of government has created a great deal of controversy, and the current debate continues over how much social assistance is appropriate.
The most common function of government is maintaining order within a country or region. This requires the creation of laws that define property rights, and a way to collect taxes and distribute them. Governments may also maintain military forces and police departments, and have the right to arrest those who break the law.
A government’s role in preserving itself against internal threats is more controversial, however. In times of war, government enlarges its scope of domestic control and may raise conscripted troops, imprison those who refuse to serve, deny passports, restrict internal travel, censor the press, impose rationing and other price controls, and use summary forms of arrest. Governments are also charged with preventing spies and terrorists from entering the country, and can impound property or even expel those who fail to cooperate.
In some countries, including the United States, governments have expanded their scope of responsibility in guiding economic development. Governments that promote social democracy, for example, have a wide range of powers in relation to business and industry, and may impose credit controls or other forms of regulation to control inflation. They may also be able to borrow money and invest it in projects.
In most developed nations, most people now accept that there is a role for government to provide certain services and goods, which are not easily or profitably provided by the private sector. These include education, health care, and infrastructure to allow for the free flow of goods. Governments also regulate access to certain natural resources, such as wildlife and public lands. The concept of government as an active force promoting economic growth has been largely replaced by the idea of a limited role for government as an umpire to establish the rules by which the invisible hand of market forces operates.