The Tunisian Catalyst

DAVOS – The whole world celebrates Tunisia’s democratic revolution, which has set off a cascade of events elsewhere in the region – particularly in Egypt – with untold consequences.  The eyes of the world are now set on this small country of ten million, to learn the lessons of its recent experience and to see if the young people who overthrew a corrupt autocrat can create a stable, functioning democracy.

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. What matters is a sense of equity and fair play.