How to Succeed in Business (According to a 15th Century Trade Merchant)

In what could be considered the first business how-to book, an Italian merchant from the 1400s advises leaders to be charitable, ethical, and treat people fairly; be modest; look for the right qualities in a wife; be selective in deals; and retire at 50, when “natural fervor abates, his blood calms down, his intelligence dims and his memory becomes less quick, so that he risks committing many errors in his business.”

“In a sense, these are very early concepts of corporate social responsibility,” says Harvard Business School professor of management practice Dante Roscini, “He’s addressing the issue of responsibility to the community and who you are as a person.”

Written in 1458 in Venice by trade merchant Benedetto Cotrugli, The Book of the Art of Trade has just received its first English translation. Baker Library at HBS and the HBS Business History Initiative (BHI) recently hosted a reception celebrating the new release. The library’s late medieval and early Renaissance Italian business records housed in HBS’s Historical Collections in Baker Library are among the largest and most important collections in the world outside of Italy.

“He’s addressing the issue of responsibility to the community and who you are as a person”

“Sponsoring this event was an opportunity to highlight the extraordinary treasure trove we have here, as well as the larger return to studying early capitalism in a global context,” says HBS associate professor Sophus Reinert, a BHI faculty member. While Cotrugli’s manuscript is not housed at Baker, guests had the opportunity to examine ledgers and other records in the collection from the same era.

Written in 1458, Cotrugli’s treatise was not published in Venice until 1573, when it appeared in a significantly abridged and revised edition. The new English translation by John Francis Phillimore is based on an earlier and more complete manuscript discovered in Malta. Edited by Carlo Carraro and Giovanni Favero of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, the new edition includes commentary by Niall Ferguson, Favero, Mario Infelise, Tiziano Zanato, and Vera Ribaudo.

A reluctant merchant

Born into a family of cloth and wool traders, Cotrugli was a reluctant merchant, pulled from his studies at the University of Bologna to join a profession that he considered lacking in intellectual and moral discipline: “I found the state of general education inadequate, ill-organised, arbitrary and useless,” he wrote in the book’s opening pages. “…[I]t pained me that this useful and necessary activity [trade] had fallen into the hands of such undisciplined and uncouth people, who carry on without moderation or orderliness, ignoring and perverting the law, and that this profession should be considered of so little importance and be so neglected by the wise…a forum for empty chatter where anything goes.”

To correct this sorry state of affairs, Cotrugli took a holistic approach, laying out a four-part handbook that encompasses the origins and principles of trade; the role of religion; civic duties, which includes chapters on topics such as modesty and fairness; and a number of domestic matters, from the desirable qualities in a wife to the proper furnishing of a home.

“It’s a period that maybe for the first time saw wealth and its broader potential as a societal goal,” says Reinert. “You needed to be wealthy to give to others. Instead of conquering, you could achieve greatness through excellence in trade.”

“They incorporated business into a larger social and ethical framework,” adds Robert Fredona, an HBS research associate who is cataloging Baker Library’s holdings from this period. “Cotrugli is one of the earliest texts to talk about business ethics, such as treating people fairly.”

Stay out of politics

Readers also find clear instructions on what to avoid (chess, board games, cards, dice, fencing, wrestling, playing instruments, dancing, hunting, fishing) and how to conduct oneself, including the importance of attending mass, praying, and charity to others: “The merchant must be generous in extending his hand to the poor and in giving alms out of his own property in proportion to its extent.” Merchants should not be involved in politics, or the courts, “because these are perilous areas”—a statement that continues to inspire debate in the era of businessman-turned-president Donald Trump.

Honor, prudence, integrity, diligence, civility, composure, and temperance are all highlighted in separate chapters—but Cotrugli gives equal due to the importance of luck and boldness. A merchant also must be canny, but not overly so: “The shrewdness of the merchant, or his cunning, must be employed in moderation: he should neither hurt others nor allow himself to be got the better of, but manage to intuit where deceit and falsity lurk.”

Part of the Baker Library collection: Account book of the
Monte di Pietà (a charitable credit institution) in Rome, 1574-1643. Credit: Baker Library

To be a good merchant, in other words, you first had to be a good citizen, with education playing a key role in creating the “universal man, equipped with the capacity to understand and deal with all types of men.”

“Cotrugli was elevating the idea of a merchant from a very trading-oriented persona to a broader and nobler figure in society,” says Roscini, noting that this concept fit well with the highly literate, numerate culture of Renaissance Italy and its emphasis on cultivating the whole person. “It wasn’t just about pursuing a noble ideal, either,” Roscini adds, “if you followed this path, you would be more successful.”

With that said, the art of trade also requires a strong base of technical knowledge. In the book’s first section, Cotrugli covers the particulars of barter, selling for cash, selling on credit (and receiving payment), and keeping one’s books “in a mercantile manner,” among other business topics.

Scholars have noted that it is the earliest known work to cite the system of double-entry bookkeeping, which would be covered in greater detail more than 30 years later in Luca Pacioli’s Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (1494), a first edition of which is housed at Baker.

Cotrugli also notes the importance of a business’s location, and offers his opinion on risk and diversification in commentary as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 15th: “Be careful not to take on too many or too large transactions: do not try to net every bird that passes, because many have failed for taking on too much, but no one for exposing himself too little.”

Be prepared to write-off debt

Extending credit was as much a necessity for trade in Cotrugli’s time as it is today, but charging interest was illegal; instead, debts were compensated through commissions or insurance premiums that skirted the definition of usury. And Cotrugli was clear on the treatment of nonperforming loans; after one year, the amount due should be cut in half, and written off entirely after two, “because for the merchant losing time and losing money are the same thing.”

Succession planning is also touched on (even if it doesn’t go by that name in Renaissance Italy). Cotrugli’s attitudes are surprisingly modern in this regard. That one’s offspring will follow in the family business, for example, is not a given.

“…we need to take particular care, when we are beginning to channel the disposition of a son…when directing them towards the practice of trade, because if that son has a leaning elsewhere…he might not well prosper in that life, or would only get on with difficulty or remain stuck halfway with small profit to himself and without reaching his objective, which should be to enrich himself honourably.”

If, however, he is lively by nature, well turned-out and of noble character, and not too fickle nor an idler, but rather aspires to acquire both honour and profit or victory in war, Cortugli opines, “then we can say that he is suitable material for a career in trade.” And if that is the case, he should learn his trade with an outside mentor for several years: “as soon as they are grown, they should be placed with a good and knowledgeable merchant so as to learn their trade, because although many want to become masters without a master, this is not possible.”

The book concludes, appropriately enough, with the proper way to end a merchant’s career. According to Cotrugli, the appropriate age for retirement was not 65 or 70, but 50 (life expectancy was shorter in those days and Cotrugli himself would die at 53). At 50, the merchant’s “natural fervor abates, his blood calms down, his intelligence dims and his memory becomes less quick, so that he risks committing many errors in his business.” According to the laws of nature, “it is good that he rest. He wanted money: he has got it; good name: he has it; possessions: he has them; he has married off his sons and daughters, he has made his pile, fathered and reared children, he has seen them learn his trade, he is fifty or sixty years old: what more does he want?” he demands, chiding anyone who wishes to continue working for fear of letting oneself go or being thought a “layabout.”

“You can think of Cotrugli’s book as an early manual for business,” Roscini says. “As Niall Ferguson notes in his introduction, it’s the beginning of the ‘how to’ tradition, in a sense. The book is a direct consequence of his everyday business practices and happens to contain some seminal concepts that are still here today.”

Much has changed in the centuries since The Book of the Art of Trade was published, perhaps most notably the role of women in society. But many of Cotrugli’s observations have continued relevance, despite the obvious differences in how we buy and sell today. And the differences that do exist are instructive.

“What we’re doing isn’t so new,” comments research associate Fredona. “We’re the children of these fathers, as it were.”

Related Reading:

How Ben Franklin’s ‘Way to Wealth’ Introduced American Capitalism to the World
The Forgotten Book that Helped Shape the Modern Economy

What do you think about the ideas in this article?

Add your comment to this story below.

28 November 2017 CUHK Chemistry Professor Xie Zuowei Elected CAS Member

Prof. Xie Zuowei, Choh-Ming Li Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has been elected a Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in recognition of his remarkable contributions in the field of organic chemistry.  There are 157 candidates this year, of which 25 are scholars in chemistry.  With his great achievements in organometallic chemistry, Professor Xie stands out from the crowd and received the honour.

Prof. Xie said, “I am very honoured to have been elected as a CAS Member. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my nominators, students, post-doctoral fellows, working partners and all my colleagues and friends who have been supporting me all along.”

Prof. Xie received his BSc degree from Hangzhou University; MSc degree from the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences and his PhD degree, working in a joint programme between Technische Universitӓt Berlin and the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was then employed as a research associate in the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry, and afterwards as post-doctoral fellow in the University of Southern California.   Prof. Xie joined CUHK in 1995 and was appointed as Professor of Chemistry in 2006.  In 2013, he was appointed as Choh-Ming Li Professor of Chemistry.

Widely recognised as an academic giant in the world, Prof. Xie’s research interests lie in the fields of organometallic chemistry of f- and d-block transition metal complexes, the chemistry of boron clusters, carboranes, supercarboranes and metallacarboranes, homogenous catalysis and small molecule activation.  He has published widely with over 270 research papers.  Prof.  Xie has also successfully motivated and nurtured numerous inquisitive young scientists over the years.  As a distinguished scholar, Prof. Xie has yielded fruitful research results and has been awarded numerous honours, such as the Chinese Chemical Society Award for Outstanding Young Chemist, the Natural Science Award from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (first-class), the State Natural Science Prize (third class), The Young Researcher Award, The Croucher Senior Research Fellowship, the CUHK Research Excellence Award, the State National Science Prize (second-class) and the Chinese Chemical Society Yao-Zeng Huang Award in Organometallic Chemistry.

CAS Members are elected by all current CAS Members with voting rights. Researchers, professors or scholars of similar ranking or specialists of Chinese nationality with outstanding and innovative achievement in the scientific sector can be nominated and elected as a CAS Member. The election of Members is held bi-annually.  Currently there are 7 CAS Members in CUHK, including Prof. Henry Wong, Prof.  Chi Wu and Prof. Thomas Mak.

Keeping score of ‘friends’ on Facebook and Instagram may be harmful to your health

Ever felt like your peers have more pals than you do?

These days, with the rise of social media apps like Facebook and Instagram, it is easier than ever to benchmark the number of “friends” you have against your peers.

So, if you find yourself wondering how your social networks compare with other people’s, our latest research, published in Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests that you are far from alone. Furthermore, we found that believing that your peers have more pals than you do – even if demonstrably false – can be harmful to your health.

‘Tis human to compare

Decades of research in psychology suggest that social comparisons are a fundamental human tendency. We compare ourselves with others to evaluate and understand our abilities, our social standing and even our own feelings.

When making social comparisons, people generally see themselves coming out on top – or at least above average. That is, they are often overconfident about their abilities, rating themselves above average in health, attractiveness and intelligence.

Yet, there is at least one domain where people tend to think that they are doing worse than their peers: emotional experiences.

Previous research by one of our colleagues, Alex Jordan at the Harvard Medical School, found that people underestimate how often their peers experience negative emotions, like depression or stress, and overestimate how often they experience positive ones, like happiness, pride and hope.

One reason for the latter tendency is that people also generally overestimate how socially connected others are. After all, being socially connected is one of the most important predictors of happiness. It is therefore important to understand whether beliefs about doing worse than our peers extend to social belonging and to understand how these beliefs arise.

Looking for ‘friends’?
Evan Lorne/

The rise of social media

Social media is making it a lot harder to avoid comparing our own connectedness with that of our peers.

Since the inception of Facebook in 2004, more than a billion people have created Facebook accounts, and today, its website is the most visited in the world. Americans spend about 56 billion minutes on Facebook each month.

While some of this time is spent actively messaging other people, the typical user uses the majority of his or her time on Facebook observing other people without posting – sometimes called “lurking.” Stated differently, people spend most of their time on social media gathering information about their peers’ lives.

And, social media posts are predominately focused on projecting the most positive versions of ourselves. Given the popularity of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn, it is nearly impossible to avoid learning about our peers’ accomplishments. As a result, it is also nearly impossible to avoid using this information as a benchmark to compare our lives with those of our peers.

We believe others have more friends

To examine the beliefs that people have about their peers’ social lives and how they affect well-being, we surveyed first-year students during their transition to college life at the University of British Columbia, a large public institution in Vancouver, Canada.

Across two similar studies with a total of 1,488 participants, we asked two key questions: How many friends do you have at university? And how many friends do you think other first-year students have? We also asked them to estimate the percentage of time that both themselves and their peers had spent socializing with new friends at the university in the past seven days.

A surprising share of students believed that their peers had more friends and spent more time socializing than they themselves did.

In our first study, 48 percent of first-year students believed their peers had more friends, whereas only 31 percent believed the reverse.

In our second study, the gap was even more pronounced: More than twice as many students believed that other first-years had more friends than they did rather than the other way around – 55 percent to 26 percent. Students also believed that their peers spent 24 percent of their time socializing with new friends at university as compared with the 20 percent for their personal estimate.

How this undermines happiness

In our second study, students also reported on their happiness and loneliness. To assess happiness and loneliness, students indicated their agreement with statements like “the conditions of my life are excellent” and “I see myself as a loner,” respectively.

Students who believed that their peers were doing better socially reported lower levels of life satisfaction and greater loneliness than students who thought that they had more friends.

Importantly, these results were stable even after we accounted for the number of friends that students had. In other words, even when students had an above-average number of friends, thinking their peers had more friends than they did undermined their well-being.

Viewing pictures of peers having a good time on Facebook can make some people feel like they don’t belong.

So why do we think this way?

Our research suggests that the public nature of social activities can lead people to think that their peers are doing better socially than they are.

Since social activities like eating or studying with friends often happen in public where they are easily seen, students likely overestimate how often these activities occur in their peers’ lives.

Social media also plays a role. In research that we published earlier this year, first-year students were more likely to feel like they didn’t belong at university after viewing highly social photos of their peers on Facebook.

We have not yet collected data to see how common these feelings and beliefs are outside of college. However, given how common feelings of loneliness are when people move to a new city or start a new job, it is possible that these social misperceptions could occur anytime people move to a new social environment.

A silver lining

Our study found evidence that these perceptions can shift over time. When we followed up with a subset of students and asked them identical questions four to five months later, we observed two key findings:

Later in the academic year, fewer students believed that other students had more friends than they did. These findings suggest that the tendency to see others as more social can change over time, potentially as people get to know their peers better and realize that those peers do not actually have more friends than they do.

We also found evidence that these beliefs – in moderation – might not be uniformly bad. Students who initially believed that other students had a few more friends than they did had themselves made more friends when we checked in with them down the road. This suggests that people who feel slightly, but not hopelessly, behind their peers might be more motivated to seek out new friendships. After making more friends, people are less likely to believe that others have more friends than they do.

If you have ever felt like everyone else is more connected than you are, there is a good chance you are not alone. Yet, if you use these feelings as motivation to reach out to a new colleague or grab lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, this belief doesn’t always have to undermine happiness. In fact, it could help you become more connected.

28 November 2017 中大教授利用天然螺旋藻研發可在活體內追蹤和降解的生物合成微型機械人 (Chinese version only)

香港中文大學(中大)機械與自動化工程學系副教授張立教授的研究團隊,成功研發全球首個可以在活體內追蹤和降解的生物合成微型機械人,對微創或無創診斷和治療疾病方面具有廣闊的應用前景。這款機械人能同時利用螢光和核磁共振成像技術在活體內定位,擁有遙控感應病灶環境變化的能力,降解時釋出的化合物能夠選擇性攻擊癌細胞。研究結果已刊登於美國科學促進會 (AAAS) 的期刊《科學·機械人學》(Science Robotics)。



今次研究由張立教授、博士研究生鄢曉暉博士,聯同英國曼徹斯特大學納米醫學Kostas Kostarelos教授進行。張教授表示:「我們並沒有使用複雜的實驗室技術和工藝設計全新的微型機械人,而是改造天然存在的微生物,充分利用它們本身的各種特點,包括其結構、豐富的生物活性成分及自發螢光的特性。研究成果毋疑令可無線遙控操控微型醫療機械人的發展,邁進重要的一步,我們將繼續改良和驗證它的降解度、安全性和效用。」

張教授一直專注微納米機械人及智慧材料的製造,驅動及行為特性的研究。現時,他與團隊其他成員正致力從結構設計及材料選擇,改善微型機械人的功能性和醫療微型機械人系統的研發。該研究工作得到香港研究資助局(RGC)的資助。張教授的研究結果曾多次登上著名國際期刊的封面,如《晶片實驗室》(Lab on a Chip), 《先進材料》(Advanced Materials) 和《今日材料》(Materials Today)。



The no-excuses way to manage healthcare growth

At the first Starbucks I pass on my way to work, the line often stretches out the door. Yet if I hold my caffeine addiction at bay and drive a few minutes further, I can order my desired beverage with little or no wait at all. The cafes are almost identical in size and ambience; both menus are the same. Yet some customers routinely choose to wait in line — often for longer than it would take to drive to the other outlet.

In all likelihood, those two Starbucks aren’t identical after all. While the company makes an effort to reduce variation and deliver the same customer experience, its branches perform differently — with different financial results.

This is true across all service industries, including healthcare: When organizations grow and become geographically dispersed, they begin to see greater variability in the performance of their customer-facing outlets. How much variability to tolerate, and how to improve the performance of all outlets, becomes a central leadership challenge.

And it’s a particular challenge today for healthcare executives, many of whom have been on recent acquisition sprees and are struggling with post-merger integration issues. When athenahealth examined the financial data of its clients, it discovered clear diseconomies of scale — and a wide range of results among the individual practices in large healthcare systems.

The roots of variation

Successfully managing variation begins with recognizing why it happens — and when it can be avoided. When I was an executive at L. Brands in the 1990s, I met with many underperforming retail store managers and their superiors. They would all insist that their branch (or district or region) was struggling because of external factors: The store was tucked away in a bad location of a struggling shopping mall, or parking was an issue for customers.

Healthcare executives hear similar excuses for variation from practice leaders — the patient panel is different, the payer mix is tough, and so on. Yet I have found that, even in complex business environments, there are ways to reduce variation.

In one extreme, top-down, highly-engineered systems attempt to standardize as much as possible and put in place a management process that defines and demands compliance: Think of the white-gloved McDonald’s inspector who arrives at each franchise with a long checklist.

At the other extreme, the “affiliate” model takes a laissez faire approach. Crossfit is an example. Its CEO, Greg Glassman, requires affiliates pay a yearly fee to use the brand, and that’s about it; there are very few requirements or specifications for how they should run the business. If affiliates are doing something wrong, Glassman believes the market will let them know, and put them out of business if they don’t respond.

Across the service industry, this lighter-handed approach seems to be increasingly adopted — especially if you include sharing-economy businesses such as Uber and Airbnb. (After all, what else is Airbnb if not a hospitality company that allows all its properties to operate as they please?)

I’m a believer in empowering front-line workers to tailor their businesses to best serve their customers, so I have a natural affinity to the affiliate model, and believe it will eventually become the dominant model for franchise businesses. But a management structure that loose doesn’t transfer directly to healthcare. The consequences of business failure are too high when we are talking about health as well as economic outcomes.

So what are healthcare executives to do?

The middle ground — and the bottom up

My advice is to follow a middle path to managing variation — such as the one we used successfully at L. Brands. Called peer-based improvement, or PBI, it’s a bottom-up performance management methodology in which corporate managers group together locations within systems that face similar external environments, then compare the stores within each peer group along several key performance metrics.

Because the approach only compares apples to apples, it compels managers to focus their attention on what they could be doing better internally — as opposed to blaming their woes on external factors. If done well, PBI can improve underperforming locations within each peer group, promote relevant group learning, and identify additional opportunities for high performers.

Successful implementation of PBI involves several steps.

  • First, managers develop credible peer groups by determining which drivers most affect performance — location type, competitive intensity, size of the outlet, and so on.
  • Next, managers identify the key performance metrics they will use to compare peers by prioritizing them based on the size of financial impact. That way, best practices from high performers in peer groups can be shared widely, along with standard business-improvement coaching.
  • The final step is the most important: building the organizational capability to sustain improvements over a long period of time. By giving frontline workers the tools, resources, and latitude to make meaningful change, leaders can create the structure for a continuously learning organization.

Technology can aid in this effort by collecting, and making accessible, both performance metrics and remediation tactics. At L. Brands, we developed an integrated point-of-sale system that provided local and comparative peer group data at the store level. That way, all Victoria Secret locations, for instance, could benchmark their performance and share data and tactics on a timely basis.

But such technology isn’t essential. What matters is that information sharing and learning occurs. Food company Danone Group gave up on its attempts to install an IT system to support PBI after several false starts. Instead, they created events — termed “marketplaces” — where operating managers share what works with their peers. The goal is to identify what they call “nice stories” about successful local innovation that can be shared across geographies.

Making it work in healthcare

In healthcare, some organizations are already putting versions of this system into practice. Privia Health, a fast-growing, venture-backed physician network, develops precise road maps to help recently acquired practices transform their organizations to be able to succeed under risk-based contracts.

At Privia, performance consultants, many of whom have experience running practices themselves, review detailed performance reports with doctors — including unblinded data about how those physicians are performing versus their peers.

In addition, peer groups meet in person periodically to discuss what’s working and what’s not. They develop monthly action items tied to concrete metrics, such as increasing portal adoption or scheduling visits for high-risk patients.

Because healthcare is administered by and to human beings, we can never stamp out variation entirely. Peer-based performance improvement is a methodology that accounts for unavoidable variation while removing excuses for underperformance.

If done right, this method improvement drives results. But that’s not the only advantage. A data-driven approach to managing growth can lay the groundwork for collaboration, peer-to-peer sharing, and continuous improvement.

Len Schlesinger is Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School and the former vice chairman and chief operating officer of L. Brands.

Active investing v.2.0

Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s lyrics from his 1964 release “The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” are words every business leader should keep in mind when planning for the future: “… the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fadin’ …”

Butler Introduces the New York City Learning Semester

Students will spend a semester interning and learning in Manhattan.

For more than a decade, Butler University has been offering students a chance to spend a semester interning and taking classes in Washington DC. Beginning in fall 2018, students will have that same opportunity in New York City.

Rusty Jones, Faculty Director of the Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement, said the New York City Learning Semester will be offered to juniors and seniors of all majors with a minimum 3.0 grade-point average.

Butler will offer six credits of internships and nine credits of electives related to New York. The University is arranging for housing, either in the city or Brooklyn Heights.

“I think the experience provides the opportunity for significant personal and professional growth,” Jones said. “Our students will live and work in the nation’s largest city, developing valuable work experience, while also learning from the diverse, multi-cultural population in Manhattan.”

The New York program will be similar to DC in that students will work as interns Monday through Thursday for 30 hours. Two, three-credit courses will be offered during the semester in subjects such as City as Text and Public Art and Architecture. A New York offering might include an Intro to Wall Street course, Jones said.

Those classes will meet Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

In addition, three, one-credit courses will be offered on various weekends. In Washington, for example, Political Science Professor Terri Jett is scheduled to teach a Black History course that includes a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Sociology Professor Antonio Menendez has taught a class on immigration.

“Most of the students in DC choose to take all the classes,” Jones said. “I think they find them fun and they leave DC as real experts in that area.”

Jones said after students are accepted to the program, he will meet with them individually to help them line up an internship in New York. He also will be checking with Butler alumni in New York to see if they have internship opportunities.

“Butler people tend to be very loyal,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll be excited to have Butler students come and intern with them.”

Claire Jacobi, a Sports Media and Strategic Communications major from Batavia, Illinois, spent a semester in Washington interning at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She said she strongly encourages Butler students to study in a different city, whether it be across the country or across the world.

“I loved my experience in Washington DC,” she said. “It was eye-opening, fun, and allowed me to take a huge step out of my comfort zone. It gave me real-life experiences and I feel it helped prepare me for life after college.”

Students have until February to apply for the New York trip, and Jones said he doesn’t expect to limit the number of students who can participate.

“There’s plenty of time for students to work with their advisers and figure out if this is a fit,” he said. “I want anybody who participates to make sure they stay on track with their graduation plan, and if it does fit their professional goals and their academic goals, I’d love to see them in the program.”

Media contact:
Marc Allan


The chance of a bitcoin crash is greater than 80%

There’s a greater-than-80% chance that bitcoin will soon crash.

To be sure, mine is not the first column to suggest that a bitcoin

BTCUSD, -3.20%

 crash is imminent, especially as bitcoin’s price tops $10,000. But you may not realize just how high the probability of a crash has become.

The reason I am able to estimate a crash’s probability is a recent study of what has happened on prior occasions when an asset’s price has skyrocketed. Bitcoin’s extraordinary price run-up far exceeds the threshold for when a crash becomes nearly certain.

This study, titled “Bubbles for Fama,” was published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Its authors are Robin Greenwood, a finance and banking professor at Harvard Business School and chair of its Behavioral Finance and Financial Stability project; Andrei Shleifer, an economics professor at Harvard University; and Yang You, a Ph.D. candidate at that institution.

The researchers defined a bubble as a sharp price run-up over a two-year followed by at least a 40% drop over the subsequent two years. When the price run-up is 100% or more, they found the probability of a crash becomes 50%. When focusing on price run-ups of at least 150%, that probability becomes 80%. As price run-ups become even bigger, a crash becomes “nearly certain.” (See chart.)

To put those thresholds in context, consider that bitcoin’s runup over the last two years is nearly 2,500%. That’s more than 10 times greater than the threshold the researchers found was associated with a “near certain” subsequent crash.

To be sure, the authors focused on the stock market in their study, not crypto-currencies. But I nevertheless am confident that their conclusions apply to bitcoin too, since they analyzed nearly a century’s worth of historical data, both in the U.S. and in foreign stock markets as well, and found broadly similar conclusions regardless of the time period or the country.

They furthermore were unable to find any evidence that the probability of a crash was dependent on any fundamental factors. That’s a crucial detail, since many of bitcoin’s true believers insist that the fundamental case for bitcoin is unique, and that therefore historical precedents don’t apply. Yet every prior bubble was accompanied by similar claims of historical uniqueness. (Can you say “dot-com bubble”?)

It’s often said that the four most dangerous words in investing are “this time is different.” Bitcoin investors in particular should not forget that.

For more information, including descriptions of the Hulbert Sentiment Indices, go to The Hulbert Financial Digest or email

Garrison Keillor Accused Of ‘Inappropriate Behavior,’ Minnesota Public Radio Says

Garrison Keillor, the creator and former host of A Prairie Home Companion, has been accused of inappropriate behavior, according to Minnesota Public Radio, which has announced it is cutting ties with Keillor and his production company.

In a statement released Wednesday, the NPR member station says it learned of the allegations in October and has retained an outside law firm to investigate them. That investigation is ongoing.

Keillor no longer hosts A Prairie Home Companion, the show indelibly tied to his name, but continued to produce The Writer’s Almanac. Both shows are widely carried by public radio stations across the country, with The Writer’s Almanac airing on WILL-FM.

MPR says in its statement that it will no longer distribute Writer’s Almanac, and it will stop rebroadcasting The Best Of A Prairie Home Companion. In addition, new episodes of A Prairie Home Companion — now hosted by Chris Thile — will be given a new name.

The allegations “relate to Mr. Keillor’s conduct while he was responsible for the production of A Prairie Home Companion,” MPR says. “Based on what we currently know, there are no similar allegations involving other staff.”

“Garrison Keillor has been an important part of the growth and success of MPR, and all of us in the MPR community are saddened by these circumstances,” Jon McTaggart, the president of MPR, said in that statement. “While we appreciate the contributions Garrison has made to MPR and to all of public radio, we believe this decision is the right thing to do and is necessary to continue to earn the trust of our audiences, employees and supporters of our public service.”

Keillor told The Associated Press that MPR cut ties with him over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Keillor in which he defended Sen. Al Franken, accused of forcibly kissing a radio host and groping another womanduring a photo, against calls for his resignation.

“On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss [Leeann] Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken. Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness,” Keillor wrote. “No kidding.”

Allegations of misconduct — specifically, of sexual harassment — have caused a number of prominent men to lose their jobs in recent weeks, including two top editors at NPR.

Earlier Wednesday, NBC News announced that longtime Today host Matt Lauer had been fired over a complaint about “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.”