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Alexis Tsipras is smiling because he can tell that David Cameron is a monstrously incompetent economic illiterate [Image: Reuters].

Alexis Tsipras is smiling because he can tell that David Cameron is a monstrously incompetent economic illiterate [Image: Reuters].

It is rare for Professor Simon Wren-Lewis to make an overtly critical statement of our politicians – usually he sticks to their policies.

We may therefore conclude that he has taken extreme exception to David Cameron’s comments about the Greeks, made in Brussels a few days ago.

Cameron said: “When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat, we had similar sized budget deficits. The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people. I am determined we do not go backwards.”

Here’s Prof Wren-Lewis’s response: “In other words if only those lazy Greeks had taken the difficult decisions that the UK took, they too could be like the UK today. This is such as travesty of the truth, as well as a huge insult to the Greek people, that it is difficult to know where to begin.

According to OECD data, the 2010 government deficit in Greece was 11%, and in the UK 9.5%. The Prime Minister is normally well briefed enough not to tell outright lies. But look at this chart you can see why the statement ‘virtually in the same boat’ is complete nonsense.

150323UKGreekfinancialbalances

“The real travesty however is in the implication that somehow Greece failed to take the ‘difficult decisions’ that the UK took. ‘Difficult decisions’ is code for austerity. A good measure of austerity is the underlying primary balance. According to the OECD, the UK underlying primary balance was -7% in 2009, and it fell to -3.5% in 2014: a fiscal contraction worth 3.5% of GDP. In Greece it was -12.1% in 2009, and was turned into a surplus of 7.6% by 2014: a fiscal contraction worth 19.7% of GDP! So Greece had far more austerity, which is of course why Greek GDP has fallen by 25% over the same period [all boldings mine]. A far more accurate statement would be that the UK started taking the same ‘difficult decisions’ as Greece took, albeit in a much milder form, but realised the folly of this and stopped. Greece did not get that choice.

“And I have not even mentioned the small matter of being in or out of a currency union.”

Did you take note of the comment that austerity hinders productivity?

This is very important to a United Kingdom that is struggling to increase its productivity – and therefore its competitive edge in the world marketplace. We will never succeed under the stranglehold of Tory austerity.

Prof Wren-Lewis goes on to explain why Janan Ganesh’s recent claim that George Osborne is surrounded by “monstrously incompetent adversaries” is a reversal of the facts; we have a monstrously incompetent chancellor instead.

Visit Mainly Macro to find out why.