CUTTING ROOM: America's legal eagles swoop to clean up; Tobin's turnabout on speculation tax; minicab madness; Aberdeen, that academic hotspot ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: America's legal eagles swoop to clean up; Tobin's turnabout on speculation tax; minicab madness; Aberdeen, that academic hotspot ... Evan Davis at large - I've just been reading a great newsletter from Tim Congdon of Lombard Street Research,

by EVAN DAVIS, economics editor of the BBC
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I've just been reading a great newsletter from Tim Congdon of Lombard Street Research, one of the City's more eminent economists. He was a tad sceptical of talk of the US economic miracle and now asserts that the biggest winners from the whole thing will be - perhaps predictably - the lawyers. He expects a surge in the number of lawsuits against brokerages and investment banks, and says new class actions for securities fraud are being originated at the rate of five to 10 a week. If so, this could be a big theme of the next 12 months.

We always knew there was something odd about the valuations being passed around - and now the big losers, who were typically retail investors, are fighting back.

In essence, much of the bubble was a giant pyramid selling scheme, in which the high returns of early investors were financed by the initial investments of latecomers. Any such scheme has to come to an end, when the supply of new investors inevitably dries up. We laugh at the Albanians for engaging in such dodgy practices, yet we in the West have just witnessed the biggest pyramid selling scheme ever.

Of the specific charges, the most common is that of 'laddering' - investment banks creating a false market in newly floated company shares. Certain clients would agree to buy extra shares as the price rose so that other clients could sell at a secure profit. Another common charge is that investment banks hyped stocks simply because they wanted to secure the corporate finance work, or pushed stocks that their executives owned.

Details are on the endfraud.com site. Watch that space.

Should there be a tax on currency speculation? The War on Want charity has been leading a campaign for such a levy, hoping the proceeds could go to a UN-type agency for disbursement to the world's poor. In its favour, the charity has mentioned James Tobin, the Nobel prize-winning economist who first thought of the tax in 1972.

Well, now that the French have said they think such a tax might be a good idea (confident in the knowledge, incidentally, that it will never happen), I thought it might be worth canvassing the view of Tobin himself.

And, er, he does support the tax, but not at a rate that would raise significant money. And not to raise money for the UN or any such body.

And as for French support, he was sceptical - 'they don't even have a currency'.

Capricious lot, those Nobel prize-winners.

October is the month when new minicab licensing arrangements come into effect in London. From now on, the capital's minicab operators must be licensed.

I am, of course, sympathetic to the idea that minicabs should meet certain minimum standards, but I had an argument with a nice man from the press office of the Department for Local Government, Transport and the Regions.

I think the net effect of the new rules will be fewer cabs on the streets - unless they are widely flouted. On Saturday nights, a large portion of London would be stranded without the dodgy minicab firms.

The man from the ministry thought the regulation would protect vulnerable people from being picked up by shifty drivers. I have some sympathy, but the so-called vulnerable people, who would have avoided the dodgy drivers anyway, will now find themselves competing for a decent cab with the likes of me, who would have been happy to take a chance with an unlicensed cab driver.

The silver lining is that the Tube may be forced to stay open beyond the midnight chimes of Big Ben.

It's a commonplace observation that you can judge a city or a country by its airports (spotless Singapore, ramshackle Heathrow, stylish Charles de Gaulle). Well, I've got my own way of judging a place - look at the airport bookshop. Glancing around the books at Aberdeen airport recently, I noticed that number one in its top 10 best-sellers was not The Weakest Link Quiz Book, David Beckham: My Life and Times or a Jamie Oliver cook book. No, it was The New Economy of Oil: Impacts on Business, Geopolitics and Society, published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Of course, there are obvious reasons for Aberdeen travellers to be interested in oil, but I couldn't help but be impressed by the intellect of the place.

On the basis of the airport bookshop index, Aberdeen gets my award for being the most highbrow city in the country.

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