Europe: Paying for its over-confidence
I've never met Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, so don't know if he's prone to say "tee hee".
But he must surely feel tempted to say something of the sort to the European finance ministers and central bankers he'll be seeing today and tomorrow.
Because more-or-less all of them were prone to blame the excesses of US financial institutions for the banking crises of 2007 and 2008 - and tended to extol the putative prudence of European banks.
Well it's certainly true that the likes of Lehman, Merrill, Bear Stearns, Citi and AIG were reckless beyond reason during the boom years.
But in the subsequent clear up, they've been forced to raise tanker-loads of new capital - and Congress is well on the way to passing new legislation that would prohibit banks from activities deemed to be more speculative (see my note of Friday, "Obama gets his big bank reforms").
Where is the fault-line in the global banking system today? It runs through the heart of the eurozone.
Big European banks hold less capital relative to their loans and investments than their big US counterparts - which means they are less protected against losses.
And they are significantly more reliant for their funding on volatile and undependable wholesale markets.
So right now, many of Europe's biggest banks look significantly weaker and more vulnerable than America's.
When it comes to frailty, I am largely talking about continental banks: Britain's banks, having taken many of the same ill-judged bets as the Americans, remedied themselves on the same kind of early timetable adopted in the US.
Of course, it wouldn't matter that European banks have relatively less capital and less committed long-term funding if the prospects for these banks was tickety boo.
But you've been asleep this year if you think all is lovely in the European garden.
Just like the American and British banks, European institutions went on a borrowing and lending spree in the boom years.
Their big mistake was to help finance the spending binges by governments in countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland and also to provide the debt that pumped up the Spanish, Irish and British property bubbles.
If, as many now believe, many tens of billions of euros of government and property loans will have to be written off - and I've seen estimates of write-offs running to several hundred billions of euros - then some European banks may have to turn to their governments for support.
I should point out here that data on bank exposures to the overstretched borrowers I've mentioned is neither detailed or comprehensive - so the losses that emerge could turn out to be bigger or smaller than even the wide range of extant guesses.
That said, good regulatory policy is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
And what complicates those preparations is that some of the eurozone governments whose banks may get into a spot of bother are already perceived to have borrowed too much.
So if there were to be a second banking crisis, with its epicentre in Europe, there's a question about whether national exchequers would have adequate resources for any necessary bailout.
Which is why, to return to where we came in, Mr Geithner has a legitimate interest in probing those European finance ministers and central bankers on what kind of banking losses they anticipate and can underwrite - because, to rewrite the old markets cliche, if Europe catches a cold, the rest of the world may end up providing some of the medicine.