Structures of Government


Hey, Government students! Today we are going to talk about structures of government. Before we go over the different structures of government, I want to make clear the difference between a structure of government and a system or form of government. A system or form of government deals with how power is distributed in terms of decision making. Who votes? Who has power? Are there checks and balances? Do the people have rights or is power concentrated in one absolute source, like a king or queen? Who has the authority to rule? Is it one person? Many people? A few people? A government structure is how power is organized regarding the national government and smaller units, sometimes called states, sometimes called provinces, etc. When trying to analyze a structure of government, you’d ask yourself, “How is national power organized across regions?” Does the central government hold all the power? Are there smaller units, like states, that hold all the power? Is there a balance? Let’s back up for one quick second. What exactly is a central government? A central government means the national government. For the US, it would be Washington DC, where national leaders—like the president, senate, the house of representatives, and so on, meet to discuss national issues. These are things that affect all Americans like war, education, health care, etc. What’s a central government? There are three basic structures of government. The first is a unitary form of government. In a unitary government, the central government (or national government) may or may not create lesser governments to delegate power. In this structure, the national government has ALL the power. They make ALL the decisions and the smaller governments, like states or provinces, simply carry out what the central government says. Think of it like our high school. The principal develops different policies, and may or may not create smaller units to carry out these policies. So let’s say that the principal and assistant principal come up with a new testing policy and they need help making sure it’s implemented. They have two options: First, they could create department positions that help ensure the job gets done. Or they could carry out the policy themselves. Unitary governments are the most common structure in the world today, with countries like France, Great Britain, and Israel all utilizing this structure. Remember, structures and systems/forms are NOT the same. Ok. The second structure of government is confederate. A confederate government is a cooperative of states that give the central or national government the power to deal with matters of common concern. Just think cooperative equals confederate. Unlike a unitary government, the power doesn’t trickle down, it moves up. In this structure, the states have all the power and get to vote on issues, and when an agreement is reached, the central or national government implements the measure by carrying it out. So for example, if there’s a soccer team and their coach wants them to pick a jersey color, the teammates would vote. Once they decide on the color, the coach buys their jerseys. You see, the coach didn’t make the decision, the teammates did. However, one downfall of a confederation is that typically ALL member states need to agree. This can be very difficult to achieve, considering they are not voting on small issues like the color of a jersey. They could be voting on war, trade, taxes, or even slavery. A primary example of a confederate structure of government was the Confederate States of America, or the South during the Civil War. The final structure of government is a federal government. In a federal structure of government, the national or central government has powers and the states or provinces do, too! This structure is what we have here in the United States and it works really well because we are such a diverse, large nation. In this structure, power is balanced, like on a scale, so that the central government has some powers, such as declaring war, signing treaties, dealing with international trade and so on but the states have some powers, too, like education laws, determining driving ages, and whether or not gambling is legal. While this allows some issues to be determined on the local level, laws can change from state to state. So even though someone may only need to be 14 to get a driver’s permit in South Dakota, you must be 16 in New York. Remember, structures of government determine how power is divided between the national or central government and the states. Alright, that wraps it up for today! Remember, if you didn’t catch something the first time, just go ahead, rewind replay, and make sure you answer those questions!

Maurice Vega

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