Can governments squeeze bankers' pay?
I'm in New York filming a piece on where we are in respect of reform and recovery as we approach the anniversary of the demise of Lehman Brothers.
But I felt compelled to break off for a few minutes to assess the proposals advanced today by the troika of Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown to limit bankers' pay.
And I have to say that at first blanche the measures appear a tad muddled.
What is lacking is any sophisticated explanation of why the three wish to limit bankers' pay - other than their statement of the staggeringly bloomin' obvious that big bankers' rewards, so soon after banks were bailed out to an unprecedented extent by taxpayers, upsets a lot of their respective voters.
I think we know that.
But is it the sheer magnitude of the rewards that's wrong - their contribution to the growing inequality of our societies?
In which case, should there be a cap on the rewards of footballers or broadcasters (especially those who don't deliver, perhaps)?
Or is it that some bankers were rewarded for taking dangerous risks?
Well maybe we don't need the politicians to lecture us on the madness of paying bankers to kill their institutions and the economy: plans are pretty well advanced in most developed economies - both unilaterally by bank boards and enforced by regulators like the UK's FSA - to make sure that bankers' remuneration is more closely aligned with long-term performance and that bonuses sit in a de facto escrow account for a few years till its clear that they're genuinely merited.
That said, stipulating that bankers' pay should fall as well as rise to reflect what's really going on at the bank - which the three heads of government do - won't prevent huge payouts to those who generate huge returns.
Which brings us to the controversial part of the trio's recommendations, which is this: "we should explore ways to limit total variable remuneration in a bank either to a certain proportion of total compensation or the bank's revenues and/or profits."
As my colleague Stephanie Flanders says, there is some intellectual coherence to the idea that variable remuneration should not be too great a proportion of banks' income, so that they make sure that their reserves are increasing sufficiently to absorb future losses on loans and investments that go bad.
But it was not the quantum of bonuses paid out by Royal Bank of Scotland, or HBOS, or Northern Rock, or UBS or even Lehman Bros that depleted their capital resources to dangerously low levels.
What did for all of them was expanding their loans and investments way beyond what was prudent relative to their capital.
Now admittedly these banks were motivated to do this in part by the lovely prospect of all the bonuses that would be generated from the profits they expected (wrongly) to flow from all that lending and investing.
However it was the culture of linking pay to profits which did the damage, rather than magnitude of the bonuses themselves.
Which takes us to the nub of the question.
Do we want bankers to simply receive fat rewards that have no link to the performance of their institutions, in the hope this will make them more prudent stewards? That doesn't sound like a particularly compelling idea.
Or is that we simply want them on slim pickings? In which case, the better ones will quit to form or join hedge funds and other financial boutiques - where they'll be free from the nannying of Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown.
Either way, and as Adair Turner - chairman of the FSA - has pointed out, it's pretty difficult to put a lid on pay in the wider financial industry, especially a globalised one.
Remuneration in finance is like a blancmange. If government and regulators squeeze one part, it will bubble up somewhere else.
If big banks are restricted in the cash rewards they can pay their top staff, they will reward them in other ways - with increased pension contributions perhaps, or cheap loans. Or they'll pay a fortune to the best ones by hiring them on rolling short term contracts, to keep them off the official books.
And, as I've said, the most likely impact of pay reforms with teeth will be to fragment the industry into lots of privately owned firms, which will be insulated from state interference on remuneration.
So the most likely outcome would be a sort of re-arranging of the deckchairs, big changes for individual institutions.
If adopted globally, for example, I can't see how Goldman Sachs could remain a public company. That most generous of payers would surely have to dismantle its balance sheet and reconstitute itself as an old-fashioned partnership.
In other words, what the three leaders are proposing is far less radical than the suggestion of Adair Turner.
His proposal for a new global tax on what he has described as the banks' socially useless activities would attack what he would see as the root of the problem, which is the excessive bank income that spews out all those enormous bonuses.