Functions of Government

Why Politics Matters

From the political economy to political philosophy, politics determines “who gets what, when, and how” for all citizens.

Learning Objectives

Recognize the role that power plays in making decisions

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • As a term, politics is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. It includes behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups.
  • Political science is the study of politics. It examines the acquisition and application of power.
  • Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs.
  • Political philosophy seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic for public behavior.
  • Political economy attempts to develop understandings of the relationships between politics and the economy and the governance of the two.
  • Public administration examines the practices of governance in institutions.

Key Terms

  • political science: The systematic study of government and politics.
  • public policy: The set of policies (laws, plans, actions, behaviors) of a government; plans and methods of action that govern that society; a system of laws, courses of action, and priorities directing a government action.
  • politics: The profession of conducting political affairs.

Introduction

Politics as a term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. The term includes behavior within civil governments, but is also applied to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the corporate, academic, and religious segments of society. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power” as well as the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.

Political science is the study of politics. It examines the acquisition and application of power. Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how”. Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behavior; political economy, which attempts to develop understandings of the relationships between politics and the economy and the governance of the two; and public administration, which examines the practices of governance.

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Pyramid of Capitalist System: IWW poster “Pyramid of the Capitalist System”(c. 1911), depicting an anti-capitalist perspective on statist/capitalist social structures.

Political Science

Political scientists study matters concerning the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behavior, and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace. Some political scientists seek to advance theses by analyzing politics. Others advance normative theses by making specificpolicy recommendations.

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United Nations Building: UN Building in NYC.

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Westminster-Based Government, British Parliament: The British Parliament is a Westminster-based system of government with multiple political parties.

Like all social sciences, political science faces the difficulty of observing human actors who can only be partially observed and have the capacity for making conscious choices unlike other subjects such as non-human organisms in biology or inanimate objects as in physics. Despite the complexities, contemporary political science has progressed by adopting a variety of methods and theoretical approaches to understanding politics. Methodological pluralism is a defining feature of contemporary political science.

Public Policy

Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. Shaping public policy is a complex and multifaceted process. It involves the interplay of numerous individuals and interest groups competing and collaborating to influence policymakers to act in a particular way. These individuals and groups use a variety of tactics and tools to advance their aims. The tactics include advocating their positions publicly, attempting to educate supporters and opponents, and mobilizing allies on a particular issue.

Defending the Nation

One of the most important functions of the U.S. government is to provide common defense and security for its citizens.

Learning Objectives

Identify the main function of the United States National Security Council

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress certain broad enumerated powers. Among these are the power to lay and collect taxes, provide for the common defense, and provide for the general welfare of the United States.
  • The U.S. Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
  • The White House National Security Council is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials.
  • The U.S. military is one of the largest militaries in terms of the number of personnel. U.S. Defense spending draws its manpower from a large pool of paid volunteers. Although conscription has been used in the past in various times of both war and peace, it has not been used since 1972.

Key Terms

  • Article One, Section Eight: Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress certain broad enumerated powers. Among these are the power to lay and collect taxes and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.
  • United States Armed Forces: The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
  • The White House National Security Council: The White House National Security Council in the United States is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials.

Introduction

Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, which is the legislative branch of the federal government. More importantly, it establishes limits on the powers of Congress as well as the states. Section Eight gives Congress certain broad enumerated powers. Among these are the power to lay and collect taxes and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; to borrow money on the credit of the United States; and to regulate interstate, foreign, and Indian commerce. As stated in the Constitution, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. ”

United States Armed Forces

The U.S. Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military. The President is the overall head of the military. The President helps form military policy with the United States Department of Defense. This department is a federal executive department, acting as the principal organ by which military policy is carried out. The United States has the largest defense budget in the world. As of 2011, the United States spends about 160 billion to fund Overseas Contingency Operations. Combined, the United States constitutes roughly 43 percent of the world’s military expenditures.

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U.S. Defense Spending (1910 – 2007): The United States has the largest defense budget in the world.

The U.S. military is one of the largest militaries in terms of the number of personnel. It draws its manpower from a large pool of paid volunteers. However, conscription has been used in the past in various times of both war and peace. It has not been used since 1972. Historically, defense-related spending in the United States is at its highest inflation-adjusted level since World War II. As of September 2010, 1,430,895 people were on active duty in the military, with an additional 848,000 people in the seven reserve components. The United States military is the second largest in the world, after the People’s Liberation Army of China. The U.S. has troops deployed around the globe.

United States National Security Council

The White House National Security Council is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials. The Security Council is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Since its inception under Harry S. Truman, the function of the Council has been to advise and assist the President on national security and foreign policies. The Council also serves as the president’s principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies. The U.S. Council also has counterparts in the national security councils of many other nations.

The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) are the Vice President (statutory), the Secretary of State (statutory), the Secretary of Treasury (non-statutory), the Secretary of Defense (statutory), and the National Security Advisor (non-statutory).

Establishing Justice

As the third branch of government, the judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in order to mete out justice.

Learning Objectives

Identify the common principles and elements of the justice system in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity.
  • Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary generally does not make law or enforce law, but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case.
  • The rule of law is the legal doctrine that implies that every citizen, including headz of state and members of government, is subject to the law.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases.

Key Terms

  • The Supreme Court of the United States: The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases.
  • the judiciary: The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state.
  • rule of law: The doctrine that no individual is above the law and that everyone must answer to it.

Introduction

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity. In a world where people are interconnected, but with disagreements, institutions are required to instantiate ideals of justice. These institutions may be justified by their approximate instantiation of justice, or they may be deeply unjust when compared with ideal standards. Another definition of justice is an independent investigation of truth. In a court room, lawyers, the judge, and the jury are supposed to be independently investigating the truth of an alleged crime.

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Lady Justice: Lady Justice depicts justice as equipped with three symbols: a sword symbolizing the court’s coercive power; a human scale weighing competing claims in each hand; and a blindfold indicating impartiality.

The Judiciary and Rule of Law

The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary generally does not make law or enforce law, but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. This branch of the state is often tasked with ensuring equal justice under law. It usually consists of a court of final appeal, together with lower courts.

The rule of law is a legal doctrine whereby governmental decisions are made by applying known legal principles. Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law. It stands in contrast to the idea that the ruler is above the law, for example by divine right, which the European monarchy routinely invoked to justify its rule. All government officers of the United States, including the President, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and all members of Congress, pledge first and foremost to uphold the Constitution. These oaths affirm that the rule of law is superior to the rule of any human leader

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“The Mosaic Law” by Frederick Dielman (1896): Mosaic representing both the judicial and legislative aspects of law. The woman on the throne holds a sword to chastise the guilty and a palm branch to reward the meritorious. Glory surrounds her head, and the aegis of Minerva signifies the armor of righteousness and wisdom.

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The United States Supreme Court (2010): The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

United States Court System

In the United States court system, the Supreme Court is the final authority on the interpretation of the federal Constitution and all statutes and regulations created pursuant to it, as well as the constitutionality of the various state laws; in the U.S. federal court system, federal cases are tried in trial courts, known as the U.S. district courts, followed by appellate courts and then the Supreme Court. State courts, which try 98% of litigation, may have different names and organization; trial courts may be called “courts of common plea,” and appellate courts may be “superior courts” or “commonwealth courts. ” The judicial system, whether state or federal, begins with a court of first instance, is appealed to an appellate court, and then ends at the court of last resort.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases. The Court, which meets in the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment.

 

 Promoting the General Welfare

In many constitutions, the general welfare clause has been used as a basis for promoting the well-being of the governed people.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate how the General Welfare clause of the Constitution is applied to public policy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • General Welfare clauses are generally interpreted as granting the state broad power to legislate or regulate for the general welfare, independent of other powers specified in the governing document.
  • In the popular meaning, the ” common good ” describes a specific good that is shared and beneficial for all members of a given community.
  • The United States Constitution contains two references to “the General Welfare,” one occurring in the Preamble and the other in the Taxing and Spending clause.
  • The Taxing and Spending clause is the clause that gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation.

Key Terms

  • Common good: the general interest of the population as a whole
  • general welfare: A General Welfare clause is a section that appeared in many constitutions, as well as in some charters and statutes, which provides that the governing body empowered by the document may enact laws to promote the general welfare of the people, sometimes worded as the public welfare.
  • preamble: A short preliminary statement or remark, especially an explanatory introduction to a formal document or statute.
  • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade: a multilateral agreement regulating international trade, signed in 1947 and lasting until 1994, when it was replaced by the World Trade Organization
  • taxing and spending clause: The Taxing and Spending clause gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation.

Introduction

The General Welfare clause is a section of the Constitution– as well as certain charters and statutes– which provides that the governing body empowered by the document may enact laws to promote the general welfare of the people. In some countries, the clause has been used as a basis for legislation promoting the health, safety, morals, and well-being of the people governed by the state. Such clauses are generally interpreted as granting the state broad power to legislate or regulate for the general welfare, remaining independent of other powers specified in the governing document.

The common good is a term that can refer to several different concepts. In the popular meaning, the common good describes a specific “good” that is shared and beneficial for all members of a given community. This is also how the common good is broadly defined in philosophy, ethics, and political science.

General Welfare in the United States

The United States Constitution contains two references to “the General Welfare,” one occurring in the Preamble and the other in the Taxing and Spending clause. The Preamble of the United States Constitution states that the Union was established “to promote the general Welfare. ” The Taxing and Spending Clause is the clause that gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation. However, The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that the mention of the clause in the Preamble “has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments. ”

There have been different interpretations of the meaning of the General Welfare clause. The historical controversy over the U.S. General Welfare clause arises from two distinct disagreements: The first concerns whether the General Welfare clause grants an independent spending power or is a restriction upon the taxing power; the second disagreement pertains to what exactly is meant by the phrase “general welfare. ”

Individual States

The state of Alabama has had six constitutions. The Preamble of the 1865 Alabama Constitution notes one purpose of the document to be to “promote the general welfare,” but this language is omitted from the 1901 Alabama Constitution. Similarly, Article IV of the Constitution of Massachusetts provides authority for the state to make laws “as they shall judge to be for the good and welfare of this commonwealth. ” The actual phrase “general welfare” appears only in Article CXVI, which permits the imposition of capital punishment for “the purpose of protecting the general welfare of the citizens. ”

Resolving Conflicts

The legal system provides a structure for the resolution of many disputes, including litigation, arbitration, mediation, and conciliation.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast arbitration and mediation as methods of conflict-resolution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Conflict resolution is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of social conflict.
  • The most common form of judicial dispute resolution is litigation, which is initiated when one party files suit against another.
  • Arbitration is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, where the parties in a dispute refer it to one or more persons, by whose decision they agree to be bound.
  • Mediation is a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects. Typically, a third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate a settlement.
  • Conciliation is a process whereby the parties to a dispute agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties separately in an attempt to resolve their differences.

Key Terms

  • mediation: Negotiation to resolve differences conducted by some impartial party.
  • conflict resolution: Conflict resolution is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of social conflict.
  • litigation: The conduct of a lawsuit.
  • arbitration: A process through which two or more parties use an arbitrator or arbiter (an impartial third party) in order to resolve a dispute.
  • conciliation: A process whereby the parties to a dispute agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties separately in an attempt to resolve their differences.

Introduction

The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. Conflict resolution is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of social conflict. More narrowly, dispute resolution is the process of resolving disputes between parties. The legal system provides a necessary structure for the resolution of many disputes. However, some disputants will not reach agreement through a collaborative process. Some disputes need the coercive power of the state to enforce a resolution.

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The Old Bailey: A trial at the Old Bailey in London, as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin, for Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-11).

The most common form of judicial dispute resolution is litigation. Litigation is initiated when one party files suit against another. In the United States, litigation is facilitated by the government within federal, state, and municipal courts. The proceedings are very formal and are governed by rules, such as rules of evidence and procedure, which are established by the legislature. Outcomes are decided by an impartial judge and/or jury, based on the factual questions of the case and the application law. Methods of dispute resolution include: litigation, arbitration, mediation, and conciliation.

Lawsuits

A lawsuit is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant ‘s actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment will be given in the plaintiff’s favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent or compel an act. Generally, the conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation. One who has a tendency to litigate rather than seek non-judicial remedies is called litigious.

Arbitration

Arbitration is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, where the parties to a dispute refer it to one or more persons, by whose decision they agree to be bound. Arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory, and can be either binding or non-binding. In theory, arbitration is a consensual process; a party cannot be forced to arbitrate a dispute unless he or she agrees to do so. In practice, however, many fine-print arbitration agreements are inserted in situations in which consumers and employees have no bargaining power. Because litigation is such a complex process, it is estimated that about 98% of civil cases in the United States federal courts are resolved without a trial.

Mediation

Mediation is a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects. Typically, a third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate a settlement. Disputants may mediate disputes in a variety of domains, such as commercial, legal, diplomatic, workplace, community, and family matters. The term “mediation” broadly refers to any instance in which a third party helps others reach agreement. More specifically, mediation has a structure, timetable, and dynamics that “ordinary” negotiation lacks. The process is private and confidential, possibly enforced by law. Participation is typically voluntary. The mediator acts as a neutral third party and facilitates rather than directs the process.

Conciliation

Finally, conciliation is a process whereby the parties in a dispute agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties separately in an attempt to resolve their differences. Conciliation differs from arbitration in that the conciliation process, in and of itself, has no legal standing, and the conciliator usually has no authority to seek evidence or call witnesses, usually writes no decision, and makes no award.

Conciliation differs from mediation in that the main goal is to conciliate, most of the time by seeking concessions. In mediation, the mediator tries to guide the discussion in a way that optimizes parties’ needs, takes feelings into account, and reframes representations.

Providing Public Services

A public service is a service that is provided by government to people living within its territory and considered essential to modern life.

Learning Objectives

Define public services and their relation to government

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A public service is a service that is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly or by financing private provision of services.
  • Public services tend to be those considered as so essential to modern life that for moral reasons their universal provision should be guaranteed.
  • A public good is a good that is both non-excludable in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.
  • Merit goods are services that may be under-provided by the market, including the provision of food stamps to support nutrition or the delivery of health services to improve quality of life, among others.
  • Nationalization is the process of taking a private industry or private assets into public ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization really took off following the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

Key Terms

  • public good: A public good is a good that is both non-excludable in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.
  • public service: A service, usually provided by the government, for the general public or its specific section.
  • merit good: Merit goods are services that may be under-provided by the market, including the provision of food stamps to support nutrition or the delivery of health services to improve quality of life, among others.

Introduction

A public service is a service that is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly or by financing private provision of services. The term is associated with a social consensus that certain services should be available to all, regardless of income. Even where public services are neither publicly provided nor publicly financed, for social and political reasons, they are usually subject to regulation that go beyond those public services which apply to most economic sectors.

Public services tend to be those considered as so essential to modern life that for moral reasons their universal provision should be guaranteed. They may be associated with fundamental human rights, such as the right to water or food. For example, the local fire department is an institution with the mission of servicing the community. A service is helping others with a specific need or want. Here, service ranges from a doctor curing an illness, to a repair person, to a food pantry. All of these services are essential to people’s lives. In modern, developed nations, the term “public services” includes sectors, such as electricity, fire services, gas, law enforcement, military, environmental protection, public housing, public transportation, etc.

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Public Transportation in the U.S.: Buses are an example of a public good delivered by local governments in the United States. This bus is in Brooklyn, New York.

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Fire Brigades: A New South Wales Fire Brigades truck in 2008

Public Goods and Merit Goods

A public service may sometimes have the characteristics of a public good. In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others. Examples of public goods include fresh air, knowledge, lighthouses, national defense, flood control systems, and street lighting. However, most public services are merit goods, which are services that may be under provided by the market. Examples of merit goods include the provision of food stamps to support nutrition, the delivery of health services to improve the quality of life and reduce morbidity, subsidized housing and, arguably, education.

Nationalization

Nationalization is the process of taking a private industry or private assets into public ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization really took off following the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century. Across Europe, because of the extreme demands on industries and the economy, central planning was required to ensure that the maximum degree of efficient production was obtained. Many public services, especially electricity, gas, and public transport were products of this era. Following the World War II, many countries also began to implement universal health care and expand education under the funding and guidance of the state. In the United States, some economists consider the U.S. government’s 2008 takeover of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation and Federal National Mortgage Association to have been nationalization.