HGov Review: Foundations of Government

Political power is often defined as the ability to make people act in ways they might not otherwise choose to act. The power to influence others comes from many sources, from formal authority to coercion. The basic truth of politics is that government is legitimate coercion. This is because government can force citizens to act in specific ways. All citizens need to be skeptical of those who have the authority to compel others to behave in certain ways.

Groups of people organize government to maintain order and provide public goods, such as roads and national defense. To fulfill these functions governments must have the means to coerce the population and to extract revenue from it.

When people work to influence the decisions made by groups, they are engaging in politics. Political scientist Harold Laswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how.” Politics unlike government, is not defined constitutionally but evolved from the writings of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in the Federalist Papers, unwritten traditions and precedents that started with the formation of the first political parties and the philosophical differences that emerged after candidates are elected to office. Politics is characterized by conflict and resolution, compromise, and the interrelationship of individuals and groups.

Governments have existed since the rise of city-states in ancient times. Over time, governments have evolved in size, complexity, and form. Today, who rules and for what purpose varies from one country to the next.

Modern governments can be classified according to who holds power. Monarchies and dictatorships ruled by one person are relatively rare. So are theocracies and single-party states in which leaders of a religion or political party run the government. Most of the world’s governments today are either parliamentary or presidential democracies.

Governments can be defined according to how power is distributed between the national and regional governments. In a unitary system, power is centralized at the national level. In a federal system, the national and regional governments share power. In a confederal system, it is decentralized to regional governments.

All economic systems must answer three basic economic questions. What should be produced? How should it be produced? How should it be distributed? In market economies, the government plays a minor role in answering those questions. In command economies, the government plays a major role in economic decision making.

The United States was founded on a set of ideas and principles developed over many centuries. Those ideas helped give rise to a system of representative government based on the rule of law and a respect for individual rights and liberties.

American colonists drew their ideas about government from various sources, including classical civilizations, English law, and Enlightenment philosophy. They combined those ideas with their own experiences in colonial self-government.



Econ: Class Assessment 1




Economics / Government Pretest