Who are the public servants?
Is Bruce Forsyth a public-sector worker? What about the chief executive of Group 4? The Prince of Wales? The head of Save the Children?
If the definition of a public-sector employee is someone who is rewarded in significant part from the public purse, then all the above could be categorised as such. The boundaries between private, public and charitable sectors are already blurred and will become more so. The arguments about public-sector pay are likely to get correspondingly difficult.
It is straightforward to classify a nurse working directly and exclusively for the NHS as a public-sector worker. But what if that nurse, doing precisely the same job, is employed by a charity, a social enterprise or a private health company?
The coalition government is currently looking at every aspect of state service provision to see whether it might be better delivered by a non-state provider or citizens themselves. Ministers are excited about the potential of Social Impact Bonds which allow private investors to profit from the effective delivery of public services. The voluntary and charitable sector is hoping the "Big Society" might mean many more big contracts.
The debate about how public workers are rewarded is framed in terms of a distinct group of citizens who have chosen to work for the state. Taxpayers, understandably, want their contributions spent wisely and effectively and last night's Panorama demonstrated some of the anger at "telephone-number salaries" being handed out to public servants. But the programme also demonstrated how people sometimes accept that individuals are entitled to be handsomely paid when they get results.
So, if financial speculators trouser a tidy wad in return for saving the government pots of money, will the public be that bothered? If a charity, competing with a profit-making company for the contract to deliver government services, chooses to pay private-sector pay rates to attract the best CEO, will taxpayers care? If the managing director of a company working exclusively in the delivery of street-cleaning services for local councils gets a fat bonus, will voters be up in arms?
I remember interviewing a group of 13-year-olds for Newsnight in 1992. They had all been born after Margaret Thatcher had become prime minister and had subsequently privatised many functions previously run by the state. When I told them that car producers used to be public-sector workers, they were astounded. The idea seemed quite absurd.
I wonder whether our children will find the current debate about public-sector pay equally absurd.