On October 13, Her Majesty's Treasury bought in to the Royal Bank of Scotland, a counting house the history of which goes back to the 17th century. The Exchequer's investment of 20 billion pounds through two different stock vehicles this past fall basically bought it a 58% share in the bank. This was not a statement of confidence. It was, in fact, a nationalization of the institution, reluctant nationalization, to be sure, but nationalization nonetheless. What does it mean for socialism in the U.K.? I have not the slightest idea.

All the while the travails of R.B.S. and of other British banks have been in the press, I've been looking at a series of overhead adverts in the shuttle U.S. Air terminal at La Guardia. There are sillier ads in the jet ways of the same terminal, and those emanate from some creative director at the Honk Kong Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC). I don't recall the message. But it is confusing.

The  R.B.S. makes very assertive claims, sequentially on one ceiling beam after another: that the bank had "foresight."  And also "clarity."  Plus "ingenuity."  And, of course, oh, I forget. The one characteristic it made no claim to possess is "prudence."  And so the bank is owned by the Queen or the People, whichever you prefer.