Government is the system by which a nation, state or community has rules and laws that are enforced and by which people are judged. It is also the group of people who make and administrate these laws. It can be a broad concept, but is usually described as the legislative branch (making laws), the executive branch (enforcing those laws) and the judicial branch (judging disputes over the law).

At its core, a government’s responsibility is to protect its citizens. That means that at the federal, state and local levels, governments must maintain a robust military force, provide police, fire and prison services and ensure public safety. Governments also create infrastructure for civic amenities, and manage the economy by controlling inflation and stimulating foreign investment.

In addition, at the federal level, it must regulate access to natural resources like public lands and wildlife. These are not goods that can be easily multiplied to meet demand; if too many people take them, there will be none left for others to enjoy. Governments must balance the needs of people with those of nature and other nations in order to preserve these resources and provide a basic standard of living for all citizens.

At the state and local level, government must provide social services and civic amenities like education and transportation. It must also set priorities for spending at each level. For example, on the state level, it must allocate money for things like road maintenance and the management of state parks. It must also set aside money for education, prisons and the military. At the municipal level, city councils oversee a legislature, executive and judiciary. Municipal courts judge low-level violations of local law, such as traffic tickets. Cases that violate state law go to higher-level district or circuit courts.

The United States is a constitutional republic, which means that the U.S. Constitution lays out a framework for how the three branches of our government should work together. This system of checks and balances is not a uniquely American concept, though. Nicholas Mosvick, a senior fellow at the National Constitution Center, explains that the idea of separate branches dates back to antiquity and Aristotle’s Politics. The framers of the Constitution were aware of this, and built on it when creating our own system of government.

Ultimately, a government must be fair and equal for its citizens to trust it. This requires basic norms of behavior, including mutual toleration for political opponents and the willingness to compromise. It also requires a system of checks and balances, where each branch is required to check the power of other branches. This helps prevent abuse of power and promotes democratic accountability. A government can’t work without these fundamentals. Without them, it becomes a tool for tyranny or dictatorship. It’s important for citizens to educate themselves about their government and its processes to help keep it accountable. Then they can play an active role in maintaining a democratic government that serves their interests.