I haven’t said anything about Tunisia because:

(a) what do I know about Tunisia? and (b) everyone knows dictatorships are only bad when they’re also geopolitical adversaries of the United States.

But Tyler Cowen observes that as far as dictatorships go, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had one of the better ones:

I’ve never been to Tunisia, but from readings I’ve found the country especially difficult to understand. They’ve had a corrupt autocracy for a long time, but some areas of policy they get (inexplicably?) right. And usually they are by far the least corrupt country in the Maghreb. Dani Rodrik called the place an unsung development miracle. Maybe that was exaggerating but for their neighborhood they still beat a lot of the averages and they’ve had a lot of upward gradients. They’ve also made good progress on education.


I see this as a reminder that dictatorship is basically incentive-compatible. You’d much rather be a member of Singapore’s governing elite than of North Korea’s. That’s not to say authoritarianism is good, but simply that even authoritarians ought to be interested in improving public policy. The more growth your country experiences, the bigger the pie you have to skim off.