Government is the body, entity or active agency invested with the power to manage a political unit or state: it oversees, directs and controls its people and affairs. Government responsibilities include providing stability and security, managing the economy, providing public services, protecting human rights and dealing with international relations and diplomacy. The way that governments perform these tasks varies depending on the form they take: it may be a monarchy, an oligarchy, a democracy (direct or representative), a dictatorship, a socialist state, or an autocracy.

Governments must preserve themselves against external as well as internal threats, and they maintain armed forces to do this. They also conduct intelligence activities, protect their borders, imprison or expel foreign spies and terrorists, and embargo materials that could aid their enemies. Governments must regulate the economies of their states to promote growth, encourage entrepreneurship, ensure fair competition and address deficits. In addition, they must deliver public goods such as healthcare, education and infrastructure development.

They must establish laws and judicial systems to serve their citizens, and they must be able to provide basic utilities like food, water and mail delivery. They also regulate access to common goods – those things that everyone can use but are limited in supply, such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water – so that they do not become overexploited and depleted.

Most modern governments are in charge of providing their people with social programs, such as national medical insurance and welfare. These are controversial, however, because many people believe that they undermine the incentive for individuals to take responsibility for their own lives and that they do more harm than good.

In the United States, the federal and state governments provide a wide range of social programs and services. This includes public schools, police and fire departments, and transportation services such as roads and rail lines. State governments also administer education and welfare benefits such as food stamps, unemployment compensation, and child care assistance.

While the scope of government is constantly evolving, its fundamental role has remained unchanged: to create and enforce the rules that make up society and ensure its order. Whether or not we agree with those rules, it is hard to imagine how society would function without them.

Governments must be accountable to their citizens, and one of the ways that they do this is by establishing a structure for the free expression of opinions and concerns. This is one of the essential elements that distinguishes a democratic system from an oligarchy or autocracy. In the United States, this structure is the Constitution and the legislative branch of the government, which is made up of Congress (the House of Representatives and Senate) and the executive branch.