Tunisian economy: How democracy can lead to economic growth.

Commentaries on economics and technology.
Feb. 4 2011 4:12 PM

Liberty, Equality, Prosperity

In Tunisia, learning how a more open society can lead to a more robust economy.

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There are many balancing acts to be mastered: a government that is too powerful might violate citizens' rights, but a government that is too weak would be unable to undertake the collective action needed to create a prosperous and inclusive society—or to prevent powerful private actors from preying on the weak and defenseless. Latin America has shown that there are problems with term limits for political officeholders, but not having term limits is even worse.

So constitutions need to be flexible. Enshrining economic-policy fads, as the European Union has done with its central bank's single-minded focus on inflation, is a mistake. But certain rights, both political (freedom of religion, speech, and press) and economic, need to be guaranteed. A good place for Tunisia's debate to begin is deciding how far beyond the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the country should go in writing its new constitution.

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 21st-century democracy might be like. For its part, the international community, which so often has propped up authoritarian regimes in the name of stability (or on the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend") has a clear responsibility to provide whatever assistance Tunisia needs in the coming months and years.

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This article comes from Project Syndicate.

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Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University.  The paperback version of his latest book, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy,with a new afterword, was published in October.