First, the lessons. For starters, it is not enough for governments to deliver reasonable growth. After all, GDP grew at around 5% annually in Tunisia over the last 20 years, and the country was often cited as boasting one of the better-performing economies, particularly within the region.
Nor is it enough to follow the dictates of international financial markets – that may get good bond ratings and please international investors, but it does not mean that jobs are being created or that standards of living are being increased for most citizens. Indeed, the fallibility of the bond markets and rating agencies was evident in the run up to the 2008 crisis. That they now looked with disfavor at Tunisia’s move from authoritarianism to democracy does not redound to their credit – and should never be forgotten.
Even providing good education may not suffice. All over the world, countries are struggling to create enough jobs for new entrants into the labor force. High unemployment and pervasive corruption, however, create a combustible combination. Economic studies show that what is really important to a country’s performance is a sense of equity and fair play.
Tunisia is off to an amazingly good start. Its people have acted with purpose and thoughtfulness in setting up an interim government, as Tunisians of talent and achievement have, on a moment’s notice, volunteered to serve their country at this critical juncture. It will be the Tunisians themselves who will create the new system, one that may serve as a beacon for what a twenty-first-century democracy might be like.