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Who Makes The Laws?

The U.S. Capitol, where laws are made.
The U.S. Capitol, where laws are made.

Who makes the laws? That's what 5-year-old Paxton from Kelowna, British Columbia wants to know! We learn about laws with Mike Doyle of the Canadian organization Civix,  and Syl Sobel, author of How the U.S. Government Works.  Plus: how do elections work? And why does the UK have a government and a queen?


"Who makes the laws?" - Paxton, 4, Kelowna, BC

Who makes the laws depends on where you live and what kinds of laws you're talking about.

About 60% of all the countries in the world are now considered democracies. Democracy means "rule of the people." In a democracy, the people have the power. They decide the laws they want to live under. But there are a couple of ways that can happen.

In a direct democracy, people are deciding as a group what they want to do and how they want to live. In a direct democracy, everyone gets to vote and decisions are made based on what the majority, the bigger group, wants.

But it can get difficult and take a lot of time if everyone has to vote on every rule change in a big state or country. So in a representative democracy, like Canada, the United States, Brazil, and some other countries, the people elect a few people from their group to represent them. In the United States, for example, we elect a president to lead the country and we elect Congress people (senators and representatives). We entrust those people to make the laws for us. They have to run for re-election every so often, so if we don't like the decisions they're making on our behalf, we can vote for someone else.

Now, not all countries are democracies. In some countries the power to make the rules doesn't come from the people. Oligarchy means "rule of the few." And autocracy means "one person rule." In both of these cases, it's not the people who are making the decisions or electing their leaders. In some autocracies there's a king or a queen--that's called a monarchy. In other places there is a dictator or a supreme leader.

In some places there is both a king or a queen and a government that's elected by the people. That's called a constitutional monarchy and that's how it works in countries like Morocco, Canada, the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Bhutan, Sweden and Japan. So they have a king or a queen, whose job it is to make sure the constitution is followed. But they also have someone who is elected, like a president or a prime minister, who is considered the head of the government, and a government of elected officials who make the actual laws.

Read the full transcript

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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