Human Stupidity

Published on November 1, 2021 at 6:41 am by LEW


I recently came across an essay on Stupidity by an Italian Economic Historian, Carlo M. Cipolla. I found his 1976 essay on “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” to be insightful in helping me interrupt and understand so many of the current events occurring around the world today. Cipolla makes his point by postulated what are referred to as the five fundamental laws of stupidity.

The Five Fundamental Laws

For the record, the authors “The Five Fundamental Laws of Stupidity” are paraphrased here for brevity.

  1. We always underestimates the number of stupid people in circulation.
  2. The probability that a person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic.
  3. Stupid people cause losses to others while deriving no gain and/or incurring lose.
  4. Non-stupid people underestimate the danger of dealing with stupid people.
  5. Stupid people are the most dangerous type of person.

The Argument Summarized

Cipolla measures stupidity by actions. The crux of the theory is summed up in a graph with the X axis representing benefit to oneself and the Y axis representing benefit to others. Negative values on either axis represent harm, while positive values represent benefit. Per basic mathematics, this gives us four quadrants, which Cipolla defines as follows

Cipolla also assumes that people do not always act consistently, and may fall into different quadrants, depending on circumstance. Therefore each persons position on the graph is an average over time.


The article is well worth the read. It is quite straight forward, and I agree with Cipolla’s conclusion that his theory is confirmed by analysis of historical events. I would further postulate that it is also conformed by analysis of current events.

All one has to do is listen to the so called news today to see the final paragraph of Cipolla’s essay being played out before ones eyes.

[…] Using Professor Cipolla’s Golden Law of Stupidity, I have been doing a mental exercise to determine if those offering opinion are bandits or stupid. My conclusion is that the majority of commentators, forom across all spectrum’s, are bandits, with a minority being stupid (I am referencing Cipolla’s second law of human stupidity here). The number of people who believe and follow them reinforces Cipolla’s first law of human stupidity. […]

Add New Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *