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Comparative Political and Economic Systems

13. Comparative Political and Economic Systems

The Shakers
Is there such a thing as a perfect government? One "answer" was the utopian society established by the Shakers. In order to make their society perfect, the Shakers adhered to a strict policy of communal living, religious devotion, (pictured above in their distinctively animated form of worship) celibacy, rigorous labor, and equality.

The last two decades of the 20th century were great for democratic governments. The Cold War ended with the collapse of communist dictatorships throughout Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union itself. South Korea and Taiwan moved out of their authoritarian pasts toward greater democracy. Apartheid was ended in South Africa.

But democracy is still not the only form of government in the world today. Despite differences in form and function, most of the world's governments still try to fulfill similar primary objectives.

Purposes of Political Systems

The Axis threatens the United States
A government can use propaganda to reinforce its image as defender of the nation. This American poster from World War II shows how scare tactics can drum up support (as well as fresh recruits) for the military.

Most governments are designed to provide their inhabitants with two important services: protection from outside invasion and protection of citizens from one another. How many different ways can a government protect from invasions? They can form large armies and navies, build fortified cities, provide border patrols, negotiate with potential enemies, threaten or punish "rogue" states, or join international organizations. The list goes on and on. It makes sense, then, that every country has its own way of accomplishing these basic needs. Of course, some are more successful than others. But some similarities between governments will surely exist as well. For example, more than one country has thought to build strong armies and navies.

Likewise, try to think of different ways that countries can protect citizens from one another. Some commonalties will surely appear — police forces, crime prevention, putting criminals in jail, passing laws that define what is a crime and what is not. Again, governments have different ways to accomplish this end. Some allow more individual freedoms than others, some will have national police forces, and others will organize protection on the local level. As modern governments have taken on more responsibilities, such as regulating the economy and providing social services, the possibilities for different government structures and functions increase.

Purposes of Economic Systems

Economic systems provide needs for citizens by answering several questions:

  • What resources does the country have, and what can be produced from them?

  • How should goods and services be produced from the available resources?

  • How are goods and services distributed among the inhabitants?

Different economic systems around the world answer these questions in different ways.

The resources of an economic system are called factors of production because the economy needs them to produce goods and services. They may be grouped into four categories:

Disappearing forests
Governments must consider how their citizens use (and replenish) natural resources. Forests, for example, are being depleted at an alarming rate because of human activities like logging. But which is more important: wildlife, or the thousands of families that depend on the income that the logging industry provides?

  • Land. This category includes all natural resources, such as soil, water, air, and minerals.

  • Labor. Every economy needs human resources — people who produce goods and services.

  • Capital. Capital includes money, factories, heavy machinery — anything used to produce products and goods.

  • Management. Managers organize and direct the other three factors of production.

The world at the turn of the 21st century was becoming smaller, as global interconnections made distant places seem close. At the same time, bloody nationalist conflicts turning neighbor against neighbor still raged. Government leaders around the world examined their own systems and each others to chart a course for the new millennium.

On the Web
CIA World Factbook 2000
The CIA keeps files on every nation in the world, using information gathered by spies and undercover agents (as well as some more ordinary folks). Check out the information that hasn't been classified Top Secret at the CIA World Factbook.
Our use of oil contributes to global climate change
Burning fossil fuels, depleting forests and fisheries, poisoning the environment -- can we save the world from everything we're doing to it?
KGB emblem
The trench coat wearing, shadow-lurking operatives of the KGB's Disinformation Department were in charge of clandestine initiatives and "influencing" foreign governments. The Executive Action Department handled so-called "wet affairs," murders, kidnapping, and sabotage.
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