The IMF according to Keynes?
Is the International Monetary Fund up to the job of fixing the global economy? That's the question I've been thinking about for a radio documentary which will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Tuesday evening.
Over the past six months we've spoken to a lot of people inside - and outside - the institution, including several interviews with the Fund's ebullient Managing Director, Dominique Strauss Kahn, and the IMF mission chief in Greece.
I came away thinking that the world probably has more need of a muscular IMF now than at any time in its 65 year history. But I'm not sure big players like America or China are ready for the kind of loss of national sovereignty that a strong IMF would require.
When we first started thinking about the programme, at the start of 2010, the Fund had already played a key role in the global financial crisis. But few would have predicted that there would be two massive IMF programmes under way in the eurozone before the year was out. (There's a couple of weeks left - who knows, maybe Portugal will be make it three?)
When the G20 had trebled the Fund's resources - to $750bn - at the London Summit in 2009, everyone thought the money would be lent to emerging economies, so they didn't get sucked into the financial maelstrom in Europe and the US. They didn't think it would be used partly to bail out the euro.
When we spoke to him, Mr Strauss Kahn was uncharacteristically humble about his role in pulling together the $750bn rescue programme for the single currency in that fateful weekend in early May, when most European governments were still kidding themselves that another $50 or $60bn would stop the rot.
But I am reliably informed that Mr Strauss Kahn and the US Treasury Secretary were central to turning $60bn into $750bn - in less than 24 hours. The Fund's managing director did joke to me that it had been "good pay per hour".
If we had not had an IMF, we would probably have had to invent one in the past two years. But the Fund isn't supposed to be only fighting financial fires. It's also supposed to be helping to prevent them from breaking out, banging heads together to stop a return to the massive global financial imbalances that built up in the years before the crisis.
I've written endlessly on that subject in the past few months: suffice to say, it's a lot easier to say what a more balanced global economy would like than to explain how we get there from here.
In a sense, it all goes back to the original debates about the IMF at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944. That was when the Allies came together to create a new world economic order - the experience of the 1930s still firmly in their minds.
Famously, John Maynard Keynes, was the British mastermind at the meeting. He wanted to create an International Payments Union, which would literally manage global trade and capital flows, to keep a lid on surpluses and deficits - and prevent a return of the costly trade battles of the 1930s. But the key US advisor, Harry Dexter White, had different ideas. The Americans didn't want anything that would be a counterweight to US power.
Predictably, the US won. The Americans even objected to the word "union" - because, for them, being in a union meant giving up real power. Instead of a grand International Payments Union, the world got the International Monetary Fund.
All it was supposed to do was to help countries stick with the new system of fixed exchange rates. And bail them out - when they came unstuck.
A lot has happened in the global economy since then. But we still seem to know a lot more about responding to crises than we do about preventing them.
Mr Strauss Kahn thinks the world might now be ready to re-visit Keynes' more ambitious vision of the Fund. Intriguingly, he even thinks the eurozone has shown the way - by demonstrating just how important it is for countries to work together, to keep imbalances in check. Perhaps. But Europe's governments have not yet shown they are ready to put the greater European good consistently ahead of their own.
My worry is that the two sides of the Fund's job - the fire-fighting, and the prevention of fires - are not entirely complementary. In fact, some would say it's the firefighting that the Fund did in the 1990s (egged on by the US) in Mexico and elsewhere that helped give investors confidence that government would always be bailed out, and contributed to the mess we are in today.
By introducing ever more elaborate safety nets for countries that get into trouble - and "precautionary facilities" for the ones that haven't - the risk is that the Fund is adding to the mountain of moral hazard that many fear will be the result of all of the bailouts of the past few years. It could thus be helping to make the next crisis more likely.
Perhaps we would not worry quite so much about that, if the Fund were also in a position to make sure the economic policies of the largest economies make up a coherent whole. That would lessen the scope for massive global financial imbalances, and the crazy financial bets that tend to accompany them. But so far there's not much evidence that the great powers are ready to be told what to do - by the IMF or anyone else.