The Different Kinds of Government

The government is the system of people, laws and officials that defines and controls a country. Governments like ours regulate what happens in public life and can influence private behavior, too. There are many different kinds of government, but they all have some major characteristics in common.

Most governments are based on a constitution or other law that sets out the basic principles of the government, such as how it is organized and who has power. Governments can also be described by the type of political system they use. In Western democracies, for example, citizens elect their leaders to a council or other kind of legislature and can replace them when they think they are not doing a good job.

Governments may also be classified by how they make and enforce laws. They can be centralized or decentralized, with central control and few or many regional branches. They can be authoritarian or democratic, with a strong leader who makes all decisions or a system of checks and balances that limits the power of the president, vice president or other key figures in the government.

One of the most important jobs of any government is to protect the things that all people can use but that are not in unlimited supply, such as fish in the sea or clean water. This is called a public good, and governments often provide it by taxing people. Governments also help to protect other things that are too expensive or complicated for the market to offer, such as national security and education.

Another important job of any government is to maintain order and ensure the fair operation of the business marketplace. Governments can do this by making laws to prevent monopolies, unfair competition or other abuses of the free market. They can also regulate the amount of toxic gases that factories can emit, the purity of food sold or the safety of toys and automobiles.

Some countries are ruled by a monarch, while others are republics. In a republic, the power to make laws rests with elected representatives, usually members of the legislature or Congress. The framers of the Constitution set up a system of checks and balances in which each branch of the federal government has the power to check, or limit, the actions of the other two branches. The president, for instance, has the right to veto a law passed by Congress, and this power can be overridden by two-thirds of Congress.

Almost every place on Earth is ruled by some kind of government. The only places that are not governed are small border disputed areas and the continent of Antarctica, where almost no people live. Even in these ungoverned places, people follow traditions that can be considered forms of government. There are also some people who believe they can do without any government, and these ideas are called libertarianism or anarchism. For most of us, though, the best way to organize government is through a democracy that allows citizens to vote for their leaders.