Governments provide the framework for rules and responsibilities of everyday life, protect people from outside interference and often provide social benefits. These benefits are different from place to place and country to country. Governments also define and enforce what behaviors are legal or illegal. Governments can be as small as a village or town, or as large as the entire planet.
Government first evolved as people realized that protecting themselves was easier if they stayed together in groups where one person had more power than others. This recognition led to the development of laws and a sense of what is called sovereignty, or the right for a group (later a nation) to control itself without outside interference.
Almost everyone today lives under some form of government. There are three main kinds of governments—democracies, totalitarian regimes and authoritarian regimes—and a few other forms such as monarchy.
In democratic governments, a few people out of the population are elected to make laws for everyone. In the United States this group is called Congress, and it consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of representatives is equal to the total population, and each state has two senators. Every 10 years, the number of representatives changes. Congress appoints the President to serve as its head, and when the President talks with leaders of other countries he or she represents all of America. The Executive Branch makes sure that the laws made by Congress are carried out. The Judicial Branch decides whether laws passed by Congress are constitutional.
Most governments also impose taxes to raise money for their operations. This money is used for things like education, police, and national defense. Some countries have systems of welfare and national medical insurance. Some people criticize these programs because they believe that they take away a person’s responsibility to care for himself or herself.
The final job of most governments is to keep people from harming themselves or each other. This can be done by enforcing laws, regulating behavior and by providing police and military forces. Governments can also prevent people from leaving the country by setting up borders.
Some people think that there should be no government at all and that individuals can do whatever they want on their own, but this is very dangerous. Other people believe that the government should have a limited role to protect them from harm, but not to interfere with their lifestyles too much. Regardless of your views on this issue, all people need some kind of protection from each other and from outside threats. Governments are the best way to accomplish this. Governments can come in many forms, but most of them have a few basic features: