Government structures are the basic things that governments need to do to govern; they are the basic functions that appear in every modern government. Political institutions are the particular mechanisms that a government uses to carry out essential government functions. For example, every government must have a mechanism to create laws—a government structure—but not every country has a Congress—a political institution. Institutions often reflect a society’s view of human nature and its hopes; however, a society rarely has an opportunity to create institutions from scratch. In addition to the basic functions that institutions serve, they also can allow governments to build legitimacy for their policies.
There are many different types of government, and Aristotle came up with one of the most commonly used typologies, which divides government types according to the number of people who rule and for whom the government works. Most countries utilize a federal or unitary system to structure their relations between the national government and its local entities.
Students should learn two very important lessons from this chapter. First, there is more to studying government institutions than merely identifying the names of institutions in particular countries. Political institutions are reflections of a nation’s culture, its aspirations, and its history, and these institutions also play a role in shaping a government’s policies. Second, while SimGovernment might be a good way of thinking about structures and institutions, the author is not expecting any phone calls from software developers or venture capitalists.