Government is the organization of a society that provides structure and security for the people of a country. It sets laws that control behavior and raises revenue through taxes. It also provides public goods and services, such as schools, police and fire departments, roads and parks. A government’s philosophy can be reflected in the way it manages these goods and services, as well as in the policies it promotes. Governments are often described as democratic or autocratic, and may be a combination of both.
Governments are usually organized into distinct institutions, or branches, with particular powers and responsibilities. The number of branches varies between governments, as does the distribution of power among them. Governments also differ in the types of activities they conduct. For example, some governments prohibit religious freedom while others encourage it. Many governments support specific economic and social ideals, which can be reflected in the ways they spend money.
The legislative branch creates and passes laws at the local, state and national levels. It can also raise revenue through taxes and draft budgets to determine how funds will be spent. For example, if Congress decides that more money is needed for public education or highway construction, it might pass legislation to increase funding. These bills are then submitted to the executive branch, where they are either approved or vetoed. If a president signs a bill, it becomes law; if not, the legislature can override the veto with two-thirds of both chambers voting in favor of the bill.
Judicial bodies uphold the legal rights and duties of citizens and ensure that laws are enforced. They also review and interpret the laws made by other branches of government. For example, if an agency in the executive branch violates the rights of its clients, a judge can step in to correct the wrongdoing. In the United States, the judicial system includes district courts, circuit courts, the Supreme Court and state courts of appeals.
Another key function of a government is to regulate the use of common goods, such as natural resources. Unlike private property, these resources are in limited supply and must be shared by everyone. If too many people take too freely from the supply of a resource, there will not be enough left for others to use. To protect the common good, governments often prohibit the free-use of certain items like wildlife, public lands and mail carriers.
Students interested in learning more about their government can read textbooks, key political texts and books on a country’s history. They can also find a wealth of information online. They can search for websites operated by governmental, educational, charitable and civic-minded groups. They can even write to individual elected officials to ask questions about the functioning of their government. The important thing is to be respectful when contacting government officials, and to make sure the question is clearly formulated so that a useful reply can be provided. Finally, students can get involved in politics by volunteering for a candidate’s campaign or attending open debates.