Government is the group of people who make laws and provide services that help people in a society to share resources and accomplish collective goals. There are many different ways to organize a government and it depends on the type of society and its needs. Governments are important because they protect the rights of citizens and keep order in society. They provide goods and services that the market cannot, such as police and fire departments and public education (Figure 1.2). Governments also protect common goods, which are goods that everyone can use free of charge but are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea or clean drinking water. Governments have the ability to tax or draw on the resources of the entire country, and compel citizen compliance, so they can make these important goods available to all.

In most countries, government is made up of distinct institutions called branches with particular powers, functions and responsibilities. The number of branches and their distribution varies between governments. For example, the United States has three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

The legislative branch, or Congress, makes the country’s laws. It consists of two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate, with members of each house elected by residents in their state to represent them in Congress. Several committees make changes in bills before they are voted on by the whole House or Senate. If a bill gets a majority of votes, it becomes law. The executive branch, or the president, executes the laws passed by Congress. The judicial branch, or the Supreme Court, interprets and applies the law and rules on legal cases.

At the local level, governments may provide services like police, libraries, and parks. At the state and national levels, they may provide such things as education, roads and bridges, medical care, and the military. Governments at all levels collect money through taxes on people’s incomes and property. They then draft budgets that determine how the money will be used for these purposes.

Regardless of the form of government, all governments must provide stability and security for their citizens. They must protect the nation from attack by other nations, terrorists, and internal rebellion. Governments must also ensure that there is food, housing and health care for all. They must maintain a military to protect the country from enemies and provide emergency services, such as ambulances and fire stations.

At the international level, governments negotiate trade agreements and treaties with other countries and settle disputes between them by having diplomats meet with other country’s representatives. Governments must also create and enforce laws that prohibit activities that threaten the safety or well being of citizens. They must have a national currency, a passport system, and an official name that appears on money and in treaties and legal cases. In the United States, the full name of the government is The Government of the United States of America, and it appears on bills and in most legal cases.