Will Obama's tax go global?
President Obama's levy on bank leverage or wholesale funding - and the way he explicitly linked it to the "obscene" (his word) bonuses being paid by banks - has surprised European ministers, central bankers and regulators.
They note that it was America which was most reluctant to agree global rules on how bonuses should be paid in recent negotiations between the heads of the G20 leading economies.
What's more, although the US is implementing the new rules - ordaining that bonuses should be paid largely in shares, released to recipients in tranches over a few years and subject to clawback for poor future performance - it is doing so a year later than everyone else (so for next year's bonus round, not this one).
Maybe it was just the proximity of the bonus announcements which persuaded the president that he had to signal his displeasure with the magnificent size of bankers' rewards.
According to calculations by the Wall Street Journal, 38 big US banks and securities firms are likely to pay their employees a record $145bn for their performance in 2009.
That's almost a fifth higher than 2008's haul and even more than in the boom boom year of 2007.
Now not all of that is bonus. But bonuses are back - and big.
At just three leading investment banks, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley, aggregate bonuses will in aggregate nudge $30bn.
That crisis in banking, when almost all banks were on the verge of collapse, was it just a dream?
President Obama probably doesn't have to worry about whether his bank levy is intellectually coherent: bashing bonus-bulging bankers probably won't alienate many US citizens.
That said, as I mentioned yesterday, there is a logic to the tax.
For those who complain that the big US banks have largely repaid the funds they received from taxpayers, with interest, there are two responses.
First that the massive costs of bailing out AIG were in large part the costs of protecting the banks from the huge losses they would have suffered if AIG had reneged on its enormous financial contracts with them.
So - arguably - it's reasonable that the banks should be asked to pay back what taxpayers have lost on AIG.
But perhaps more importantly, the taxpayers' guarantee to the biggest banks, that they won't be allowed to fail, is worth a great deal to them.
Why should they alone - of all the businesses and industries in the world - have that catastrophe insurance for free?
The logic of Obama's levy would probably be more compelling if this retrospective 12-year tax to raise just under $120bn were made permanent and were adopted by other countries.
Obama says he wants his money back for the cost of the last bailout. But arguably it is more important that banks pay an explicit fee for their protection by taxpayers against future failure.
As it happens, the International Monetary Fund has been asked by the G20 to examine how banks can best contribute to the costs of insuring them against failure.
There can be little doubt that it will have more confidence to make bolder recommendations in the wake of Obama's impost.
It will be fascinating to see how the British government reacts.
Ministers are doubtless mightily relieved that their one-off super-tax on bonuses no longer looks like a serious threat to the competitive position of the City of London.
America's taxation leapfrog provides both the Labour administration and Tory opposition with an interesting dilemma: at a time when the money is painfully tight for the public sector, they could whack yet another tax on the banks; or they could eschew such a move, to reinforce the City and financial services.
Oh dear, I see you smirking.
On the basis of the popular mood and the recent behaviour of politicians, any smart banker will bet huge that bank taxes are still firmly on a rising trend.