Government is the system by which people exercise power and control over their lives, communities, nations, and states. It is also the set of decisions and actions that citizens take to make sure they can get what they need, protect themselves from harm, and meet their goals. Governments typically provide goods and services to their citizens, and they often ensure that all citizens can express their opinions through free speech, a free press, and elections in which they choose the people who will lead them.
Governments are organized into distinct institutions, or branches of government, with specific powers, functions, duties, and responsibilities. The number of branches and the distribution of their powers differ between governments. A clear division of these institutions is called the separation of powers. When some of these institutions share powers, it is called a fusion of powers. Governments are also organized into political parties, which support candidates for office who have the potential to form a government when they win.
Learners will discuss the various levels of government in the United States and the responsibilities of each level. They will consider the importance of a constitution in shaping government and describe what it means to be a citizen.
The role of government is to provide essential goods and services, protect its citizens from threats, and promote social harmony. Governments do this through taxation, borrowing, and directing funding to specific projects, such as maintaining state colleges or national parks. Congress, a branch of the federal government, allocates funds by establishing an annual budget for the federal government and by imposing tariffs and taxes. The money collected through these fees is used to pay for programs and services provided by federal, state, and local governments.
Providing goods and services for citizens requires a lot of money. Governments raise that money by charging for some services, such as health care and education, and by allowing citizens to vote on how they want their money spent. Governments can also protect some goods and services that are available to all citizens at no charge, such as the fish in the sea or clean drinking water.
Government is difficult to run. The framers of the United States Constitution understood this and created a system of checks and balances that limits the power of government officials and prevents them from acting without consent. This includes ensuring that any one branch of government does not become too powerful by giving it too many powers. For example, the president cannot act alone—he must consult with Congress before implementing any laws. This prevents the president from making law in a way that violates the Constitution. The framers also realized that it was important to have multiple branches of government. This ensures that people who disagree with a policy will have the opportunity to persuade another branch of government to overturn it. This is the principle of veto power. It is this process that creates a democratic system of government.