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An Introduction to Government in America

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An Introduction to Government in America. The Problems. Our Meaning of Government…. Government is an institution that makes authoritative decisions a given society

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An Introduction to

Government in America


Our Meaning of Government…

  • Government is an institution that makes authoritative decisions a given society
  • Thousands of state and local governments make decisions impacting us everyday, with there being 500,000 elected officials in the U.S.
  • Harold Laswell – Government is “who gets what, when, and how”
  • For us, we ask “How should we govern” & “What should the government do”

The Responsibilities of Government…

  • Maintain a national defense
    • Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force protect us from foreign threats
  • Provide public services
    • Billions of dollars on libraries, schools, parks
  • Preserve Order
    • When people protest, the government keeps the peace
  • Socialize the young
    • Pledge of Allegiance, education standards, FAFSA for education
  • Collect taxes
    • Federal, state, local for public services and goods
  • Regulate the economy
    • Lower taxes or higher taxes, tariffs, monetary policy, regulate banks

The government certainly

has an extensive impact on

our lives, but we also have

a similar impact on our

government as well


Narrowing It Down, For a State to Exist…

  • Has to have geographic territory.
    • Definable borders.
  • Has to have a population.
    • People
  • Has to maintain sovereignty.
    • Quality of having a supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory
  • Has to have a legitimate government.
    • Doesn’t matter as long as it is structured; could be a democracy, dictatorship, etc.

Politics in America

  • Politics could be described as our government leaders and the policies that they pursue…”who gets what, when and how”
  • People get what they want through political participation – voting, supporting, compromising, lobbying, etc.
  • Recently, there has been more single issue groups – more narrow interest, do not like compromise, often draw in people new to politics
  • People and organized groups get involved in politics because they recognize public policy impacts them in significant ways

Politics  Policymaking System

  • The policymaking system – a process where the interests, problems, and concerns of people create political issues  these issues then shape policy and impact people, create more interest, more problems, and more concerns

The Policymaking System

People have interests, problems, & concerns

Linkage Institutions get involved – the media, political parties, and interest groups run w/ those concerns

The Policy Agenda is set – public officials and others given an issue attention

Political Issues take over – the issue arises and people disagree about it and how to fix it

Policymaking institutions get involved – Congress, the President, the Courts

Public Policy is established – laws, budgets, rules (Social Sec., Food and Drug Administration, etc.)


The Policymaking System

The Impacts of the policies must be viewed: (1) Does it solve the problem? (2) Does it create more problems?

Depending on the answer, the policy can cause the cycle to repeat itself as it returns to the concerns of the people



The system of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the preference of the public

Direct Democracy

The people being gathered to discuss and vote on decisions made by government

Used in ancient Athens and in some small New England communities today

Indirect Democracy

The people elect representatives to run the government and express their beliefs

State governments are an example – people have power of initiatives, referendums, and recalls

Our national government is actually a republic – power rests with the elected officials, not the people


The Traditional Democratic Theory

Equality in Voting

A principle of “one person, one vote” --- doesn’t have to be universal, but should be representative

Effective Participation

Citizens must have enough and equal opportunities to express their preference

Enlightened Understanding

A free press and free speech are essential to foster civic understanding

Citizen Control of Agenda

Citizens should have the collective right to control the government’s policy agenda


The government must extend rights to all of the people




The fundamental principle of traditional democratic theory, meaning that choosing among alternatives must have a majority of the votes



The principle of traditional democratic theory (1) guaranteeing rights to those not in the majority & (2) they may have become the majority through persuasion & reason

Another part of the theory is the characteristic of representation --- the relationship between the few leaders and the many followers


The Challenges to American Democracy

  • Increased technical expertise or complexity of the issues
    • The elite are in command of the knowledge  that equals power
  • Limited participation in government
    • Americans do not take advantage of voting and participation in politics
  • Escalating campaign costs
    • PAC’s try to get more money for campaigns and re-elections
  • Diverse political interests
    • Each American has different interests and that influences each policy that is proposed or becomes law

American Political Culture

An overall set of values widely shared within a society

Liberty – The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life

Egalitarianism – Upholding the doctrine of the equality of mankind and the desirability of political, social, and economic equality

Individualism – Anyone can work hard and get ahead on their own, (1) social theory advocating liberty, rights, or independent action of the individual, (2) the principle, habit of, or belief in an independent through or action, (3) the pursuit of individual rather than common of collective interests (egoism)


American Political Culture

Laissez-Faire – government upholds the autonomous character of economic order, believing that government should intervene as little as possible in the direction of economic affairs

Populism – representation of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc.

Liberals argue that they protect the “little man” by using the government to create laws to protect them; Conservatives argue they protect the “little man” by keeping government off of their backs…Both are correct and use this safe strategy in American politics


The Scope of American Government

Is the government, or you as an individual, the most important factor in helping to solve your problem?

Our governments today account for 1/3 of the nation’s GDP

Our government employees over 24 million people

Our government spends $3.8 trillion each year, much of which directly and indirectly impacts its citizens

Our government owns 1/3 of all of the land in the United States

Our government currently runs a national debt that is over $17 trillion…and growing


Where do we draw the line and say it is too much?


When does the gov’t have to protect the rights of the minority?

Does the expansion of the power and responsibility of government contract our liberty as individuals?

Is the wisdom of millions of Americans more important than a single government employee?