What is Government?

What is Government?-visit www.shridaddy.com

What is Government?-visit www.shridaddy.com

Government affects all aspects of people’s lives. What we eat, where we go to school, what kind of education we receive, how our tax money is spent, and what we do in our free time are all affected by government. Americans are often unaware of the pervasiveness of government in their everyday lives, and many are unsure precisely what it does. Here we will look at what government is, what it does, and how the government of the United States differs from other kinds of governments.

Definition of Government

The term government describes the means by which a society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that the society as a whole needs. Among the goals that governments around the world seek to accomplish are economic prosperity for the nation, secure national borders, and the safety and well-being of citizens. Governments also provide benefits for their citizens. The type of benefits provided differ according to the country and their specific type of governmental system, but governments commonly provide such things as education, health care, and an infrastructure for transportation. The term politics refers to the process of gaining and exercising control within a government for the purpose of setting and achieving particular goals, especially those related to the division of resources within a nation.

Politics

Sometimes governmental systems are confused with economic systems. This is because certain types of political thought or governmental organization are closely related to or develop with certain types of economic systems. For example, the economic system of capitalism in Western Europe and North America developed at roughly the same time as ideas about democratic republics, self-government, and natural rights. At this time, the idea of liberty became an important concept. According to John Locke, an English political philosopher of the seventeenth century, all people have natural rights to life, liberty, and property. From this came the idea that people should be free to consent to being governed. In the eighteenth century, in Great Britain’s North American colonies, and later in France, this developed into the idea that people should govern themselves through elected representatives and not a king; only those representatives chosen by the people had the right to make laws to govern them.

Similarly, Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher who was born nineteen years after Locke’s death, believed that all people should be free to acquire property in any way that they wished. Instead of being controlled by government, business, and industry, Smith argued, people should be allowed to operate as they wish and keep the proceeds of their work. Competition would ensure that prices remained low and faulty goods disappeared from the market. In this way, businesses would reap profits, consumers would have their needs satisfied, and society as a whole would prosper. Smith discussed these ideas, which formed the basis for industrial capitalism, in his book The Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1776, the same year that the Declaration of Independence was written.

Democracy and Capitalism

Representative government and capitalism developed together in the United States, and many Americans tend to equate democracy, a political system in which people govern themselves, with capitalism. In theory, a democratic government promotes individualism and the freedom to act as one chooses instead of being controlled, for good or bad, by government. Capitalism, in turn, relies on individualism. At the same time, successful capitalists prefer political systems over which they can exert at least some influence in order to maintain their liberty.

Democracy and capitalism do not have to go hand in hand, however. Indeed, one might argue that a capitalist economic system might be bad for democracy in some respects. Although Smith theorized that capitalism would lead to prosperity for all, this has not necessarily been the case. Great gaps in wealth between the owners of major businesses, industries, and financial institutions and those who work for others in exchange for wages exist in many capitalist nations. In turn, great wealth may give a very small minority great influence over the government—a greater influence than that held by the majority of the population, which will be discussed later.

Oligarchy

Socialism is an alternative economic system. In socialist societies, the means of generating wealth, such as factories, large farms, and banks, are owned by the government and not by private individuals. The government accumulates wealth and then redistributes it to citizens, primarily in the form of social programs that provide such things as free or inexpensive health care, education, and childcare. In socialist countries, the government also usually owns and controls utilities such as electricity, transportation systems like airlines and railroads, and telecommunications systems. In many socialist countries the government is an oligarchy: only members of a certain political party or ruling elite can participate in government. For example, in China, the government is run by members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Private goods

In the United States, the democratic government works closely together with its capitalist economic system. The interconnectedness of the two affects the way in which goods and services are distributed. The market provides many goods and services needed by Americans. For example, food, clothing, and housing are provided in ample supply by private businesses that earn a profit in return. These goods and services are known as private goods. People can purchase what they need in the quantity in which they need it. This, of course, is the ideal. In reality, those who live in poverty cannot always afford to buy ample food and clothing to meet their needs, or the food and clothing that they can afford to buy in abundance is of inferior quality. Also, it is often difficult to find adequate housing; housing in the most desirable neighborhoods—those that have low crime rates and good schools—is often too expensive for poor or working-class (and sometimes middle-class) people to buy or rent.

Public goods

Public goods

Thus, the market cannot provide everything (in enough quantity or at low enough costs) in order to meet everyone’s needs. Therefore, some goods are provided by the government. Such goods or services that are available to all without charge are called public goods. Two such public goods are national security and education. It is difficult to see how a private business could protect the United States from attack. How could it build its own armies and create plans for defense and attack? Who would pay the men and women who served? Where would the intelligence come from? Due to its ability to tax, draw upon the resources of an entire nation, and compel citizen compliance, only government is capable of protecting the nation.

Toll good

Similarly, public schools provide education for all children in the United States. Children of all religions, races and ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, and levels of academic ability can attend public schools free of charge from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. It would be impossible for private schools to provide an education for all of the nation’s children. Private schools do provide some education in the United States; however, they charge tuition, and only those parents who can afford to pay their fees (or whose children gain a scholarship) can attend these institutions. Some schools charge very high tuition, the equivalent to the tuition at a private college. If private schools were the only educational institutions, most poor and working-class children and many middle-class children would be uneducated. Private schooling is a type of good called a toll good. Toll goods are available to many people, and many people can make use of them, but only if they can pay the price. They occupy a middle ground between public and private goods. All parents may send their children to public schools in the United States. They can choose to send their children to a private school, but the private school will charge them. On the other hand, public schools, which are operated by the government, provide free education so all children can attend school. Therefore, everyone in the nation benefits from the educated voters and workers produced by the public school system. Another distinction between public and private goods is that public goods are available to all, typically without additional charge.

What other public goods does government provide in the United States?

At the federal, state, and local level, government provides stability and security, not only in the form of a military but also in the form of police and fire departments. Government provides other valuable goods and services such as public education, public transportation, mail service, and food, housing, and health care for the poor (Figure 1.2). If a house catches on fire, the fire department does not demand payment before they put the fire out. If someone breaks into a house and tries to harm the occupants, the police will try to protect them and arrest the intruder, but the police department will not request payment for services rendered. The provision of these goods and services is funded by citizens paying into the general tax base. Government also performs the important job of protecting common goods: goods that all people may use free of charge but that are of limited supply, such as fish in the sea or clean drinking water. Because everyone can use these goods, they must be protected so a few people do not take everything that is available and leave others with nothing. Some examples of common goods, private goods, public goods, and toll goods are listed below (Figure 1.3).

The CIA website provides information about the types of government across the world.

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