Paradox of bank bailout
In saying that there's a case for nationalising the entire British banking system, John McFall - the chairman of Commons Treasury select committee - has shone a light on the paradox of the recent global rescue of the world's biggest banks (listen to his interview on Today).
McFall and many others are exasperated that our banks remain deeply reluctant to lend to businesses and to individuals, even after so much taxpayers' money has been pumped into the banking system.
"What are the banks playing at?" many of you ask.
Well, funnily enough, part of the reason our banks are restricting the supply of credit actually stems from the official description of the bailout as "temporary".
Governments and central banks are saying that they want their (our) money back from banks within about five years.
That may seem a long time. But it's no time at all in the context of all the money that we've pumped into the banks.
The capital element of taxpayer support is only a small part of the problem.
Take the UK. Taxpayers are providing £37bn of capital to Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Lloyds TSB.
Redeeming that will be enough of a headache in the coming few years, given the parlous state of capital markets.
But it's the tip of an enormous iceberg.
Special, additional taxpayer loans and guarantees to British banks are a further £600bn in total, or just under half the UK's total annual economic output.
All of that has to be paid back too. And since it can't be refinanced on wholesale markets (which are closed till who-knows-when), paying it back automatically requires our banks to lend less to all of us.
There's nothing the banks or we can do about this - unless we tell them that we don't want our money back. And I'll return to what that would mean in a moment.
Nor is this simply a UK problem.
As I've pointed out in earlier notes (see "The £5000bn bailout"), taxpayer support for banks across the world - from South Korea, to Australia, Germany, the US and so on - is around £5000bn in total.
Which is equivalent to a sixth of the entire output of the global economy.
And, again, the imperative of paying this back is a massive drag on banks' ability to lend and is therefore also a ball-and-chain on economic growth.
This, of course, is just one of the deadening weights on banks' ability and desire to lend.
The other severe constraints are:
1) regulators' very belated stipulation that banks and other financial institutions should hold much more capital and cash in their balance sheets relative to the value of their loans - which in a world where capital and cash is scarce and expensive is a massive disincentive to lend;
2) the devastating effect on credit creation of falling asset prices;
3) the relative dependence of British banks on funding from overseas institutions which are progressively calling in their loans;
4) the considerably increased risks of lending to individuals and companies when the economy shrinks.
Against that backdrop, the question is whether it is remotely sensible to put a deadline - implicitly or explicitly - on the repayment of all that taxpayer funding for banks.
But if we don't demand our money back, we'd be formalising that there's been a semi-permanent nationalisation of the entire banking system.
And that would massively encroach on the ability of our banks to operate as independent commercial entities.
There would be massive political pressure on them to become quasi-social utilities, providing loans at the behest of ministers and officials rather than on the basis of commercial criteria.
So here's what may turn out to be the choice: less lending for years or public ownership of the banks for the foreseeable future. It's not an easy choice, is it?