Government is the organized way a political unit—whether a nation, state or city—exercises authority and performs duties. People decide who governs them by voting for representatives to local councils, town meetings, school boards and so on. At the national and state level, people choose leaders to Congress, the presidency and the legislature, which enacts laws. People at the national and state levels also set priorities, deciding where to spend money for things like schools, parks, roads and military defense. Government agencies then take that money and distribute it for those purposes.
The most important job of a government is to protect its citizens. This includes forming and managing an efficient police force, fair court system and national defense. The government should also provide citizens with civic amenities and infrastructure that support their social welfare and development. Governments should also manage their economy, which means preventing inflation and maintaining sufficient foreign reserves.
Another role of a government is to promote economic freedom by establishing secure property rights and the rule of law. This encourages voluntary exchange by reducing the uncertainty that can reduce people’s willingness to trade with one another. People living in nations that do not have the rule of law are less likely to be able to meet their basic needs.
A third role of a government is to solve problems that cannot be solved through market forces alone. For example, pollution problems can’t be resolved through private business action, but government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency can punish polluting industries on behalf of society. Governments can also help people find jobs and bolster their standard of living by providing social programs, such as health care, employment and welfare benefits.
In a democracy, the government is made up of the legislative (Senate and House of Representatives), executive and judicial branches. The legislative branch makes the laws through votes in the House and Senate, which then sends them to the president for approval or veto. In the event of a presidential veto, both chambers must then re-pass the bill with a two-thirds majority in order for it to become law.
While there is some debate about the extent to which a government should solve collective action problems, all democracies include provisions for limiting power and guaranteeing individual rights. The constitutions of most Western democracies include a bill of rights that limits the powers of the government, while protecting the freedoms and equality of its citizens. These include free speech, press and the right to vote. To ensure that politicians do not abuse their power, many governments also feature a separation of powers and checks and balances between different departments. The intention is to create incentives that counter ambition and prevent the formation of a dominant faction in any department. The structure should also make it difficult for an influential political party to dominate the entire government. For this reason, most countries with democratic systems of government operate multiple competing political parties.