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The basic laws of human stupidity

The basic laws of human stupidity

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo M Cipolla defined the laws as follows:

  • Everyone always underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  • The probability that a specific person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  • A stupid person causes losses to another person or group of persons, while he does not gain anything and perhaps incurs losses.
  • Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people. They repeatedly forget that it is always a costly mistake when you deal with and/or associate with stupid people.

Countries on the rise vs those who are falling

Countries moving forward will have a percentage of stupid people but have an unusually high fraction of intelligent people who overcompensate for the stupid people. Declining nations have many non-stupid people whose behaviour strengthens the destructive power of their stupid fellow citizens.

Two unhelpful groups:

  1. "Bandits" in positions of power that they use for their own gain.
  2. Passive people out of power that sit do nothing as if they are helpless.

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"Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning." - William Arthur Ward


In 1976, Carlo M. Cipolla, professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity. We (still) grossly underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril.