Government is the system of people and laws that defines and controls a country. It makes the law of the land and makes sure that all citizens are treated fairly by those laws. Government also provides goods and services like schools, roads, police and fire departments and clean water. Government can be as small as a city council or as large as Congress. Some countries have one level of government, while others have several levels of government.
The word government is derived from the Latin term gobernare, which means “to rule.” Identifying a form of government is difficult because many governments develop as socio-economic movements and carry a wide range of political ideologies with them. Nevertheless, there are some basic concepts that are important to understanding the nature of government.
Forms of government can be classified according to the way they distribute power, which may affect how they operate and the extent to which they are legitimate. Power can be centralized in the hands of one person (an autocracy), shared among a select group of people (an aristocracy) or distributed among a wide and diverse population through elections or deliberation. Governments can also be classified by their underlying beliefs about what should be controlled and how those things should be achieved.
Most governments are concerned with public life, though some laws that they make can regulate private life as well. For example, some businesses can only open if they have a permit from the government and can operate only in certain areas that are protected by law. Other types of businesses must comply with laws that prevent fraud or false advertising. Governments are also responsible for protecting natural resources and other goods that people can use freely but that are in limited supply. For example, if everyone takes too much of the fish in the sea or the clean air available on public lands, there will not be enough left for anyone else to take.
Another major task of most governments is raising money to pay for the activities they carry out on behalf of the public. This is usually accomplished by imposing taxes on income, property or sales. Governments at the local, state and federal levels also draft budgets to determine how the funds they collect will be spent. Typically, these budgets allocate funds for public education, police and fire departments, and the maintenance of parks and other public buildings.
The United States Constitution has a set of rules that govern how the national government, state governments and local governments operate. These rules include the separation of powers and checks and balances between the executive, judicial and legislative branches. This arrangement is designed to ensure that no single branch can dominate the other two, allowing for democratic control of the country and making it difficult for dictators or other unpopular leaders to emerge in government. The Constitution also allows the president to veto legislation passed by Congress, but this can be overridden by two-thirds of both houses of Congress.