Government is a group of people with the power to set the rules and laws for a nation, state, or other political unit. Governments make sure those rules are followed and that everyone has the same opportunity to get good jobs, have safe housing, be educated, and live as well as possible.
Governments also provide goods and services to their citizens. Examples include police and fire departments, schools, parks, libraries, mail service, and food, water, and shelter for those in need. Governments have the ability to make things happen, but they also have to listen to their citizens and consider what other options might exist to solve a problem.
All governments have some things in common, but they are not all alike. Some governments are democratic, which means citizens choose their leaders and participate in the making of laws. Others are authoritarian, in which power is concentrated in the hands of a small group, often a single leader, and remains unchecked. Many countries have governments that combine aspects of both democratic and authoritarian styles.
The way a country or state organizes its government depends on what kinds of policies the people want and need. The most important thing is that the government can be trusted to follow through on its promises. Governments that cannot be trusted will not be able to protect the interests of their people, and in the long run will fail.
Usually, governments are made up of several institutions with specific powers and functions, called branches. The distribution of these branches varies, but most governments have a legislative branch (or parliament), an executive branch (or cabinet), and a judicial branch. Separation of powers is the idea that different branches have specific and separate responsibilities, and that they should not cross each other’s lines.
In the United States, the three branches of the federal government are Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. Congress makes laws, passes bills, and approves money. The Supreme Court decides on cases that might challenge laws or actions passed by Congress, or might challenge the constitutionality of certain bills.
At the state and local level, people elect representatives to city councils, county boards, and state legislatures to make laws and approve budgets. They often levy taxes on things like income, property, and sales to raise the money they need for their services. They will often create budgets that designate how the money raised will be spent on things like schools, police and fire departments, and public parks.
The President has the power to veto a bill, but Congress can override a veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The judicial branch of the federal government interprets and applies the laws, making sure they are fair and equal for all. Its members are like referees, checking to see that the rules and ways they’re enforced are consistent with the Constitution. This is known as judicial review. Judicial review also happens in state and local courts when someone is charged with a crime or sued for a civil wrong.