What Does a Government Do?


A government is the institution that rules a country. Its duties include determining policy, drafting laws and putting them into effect. Governments also provide security, order and justice in society. They protect citizens from violence, natural disasters and poverty. In addition, they provide social programs that give people relief through jobs, payments and food. Many governments have an active role in guiding society’s economic development. The debate over the proper scope of government is an ongoing one.

One of the oldest and simplest justifications for government is its role as protector. Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without the protections offered by government. In modern times, this justification has been realized in the form of military protection against domestic and foreign enemies. Governments have expanded their responsibilities far beyond this in recent decades.

Governments often provide public goods such as education, police and fire departments and mail services. These are typically provided for free or at a low cost. They also manage common goods like water, wildlife and air quality. This is done because the resources are in limited supply and if all citizens use them freely, there won’t be any left for others to enjoy.

Another important function of government is the regulation of markets. This can be done to solve a market failure, such as limiting the power of a monopoly or to address negative side effects for third parties, such as pollution. It can also be done to encourage certain types of behavior, such as saving for retirement or buying insurance.

The last major function of government is providing social programs to its citizens. These can be in the form of social security, unemployment insurance and welfare benefits. This is an area where there is much debate over the proper scope of government, with many people arguing that it is wrong for government to interfere with private decisions. Others argue that it is necessary to alleviate the suffering of those in poverty and need.

Governments vary in size, structure and power between countries. In the United States, the federal government looks after national affairs, while state and local governments take care of things like holding elections, taxation and lawmaking. In other countries, devolution has allowed some decision making to be transferred from central government to regional governments such as Scotland and Wales in England, and Northern Ireland in the Republic of Ireland. These governments are known as devolved and are a good example of the growing trend towards smaller, more responsive government. They can also help with issues such as regional unemployment and crime problems. They can also provide local public services, such as libraries and road maintenance.