Like many of my generation, I used to say “stupid” all too often, and only very rarely did I even consider that this could be often totally the wrong conclusion about someone. I also gave little thought about it being potentially hurtful to people either, for the simple reason we learnt that word very early in life, kids yell Stupid at people all day long, and I spent most of my life at school being stupid, leastways it felt that way most days. (The feeling was entirely mutual)

Then I came across a piece written about the Laws of Stupidity which got my attention. Carlo M Cippola, an Italian Economist and Historian, who passed away in 2000 wrote the original piece and for that, I for one, miss him already.

There is also a website and some additional information about the man and his subject and I will post links to all I can find at the end of this piece.

To begin, this is our understanding of the 5 basic laws of human stupidity, which Carlo Cippola claims are as follows: –


Law 1         Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

It doesn’t matter how high an estimate you make on Human Stupidity; the reality will always prove to be far in excess of the amount you first thought of.

You will continually be shocked by the realisation that so many of the people you once regarded to be intelligent and rational eventually turn out to be stupid. In a law similar to that of “Murphy” the regular discovery of stupidity happens in the most inconvenient of places at the most inappropriate times.


Law 2         The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

Observations have show that nature manages human populations in a very equitable way, how else can we explain populations replenishing themselves with equal numbers of male and female babies?

This is true on a global basis an right across the racial spectrum, and the same applies to the Stupid spectrum. Mr Cippola claims to have studied populations large and small, and uses a symbol (Δ ) for a Constant, which he claims, remains constant across population sizes and across education and class thresholds. He cites a university population, comprising 5 distinct levels namely the blue-collar workers, the white-collar employees, the students, the administrators, and the professors.

“Whenever I analysed the blue-collar workers I found that the fraction Δ of them were stupid. As Δ ‘s value was higher than I expected (First Law), paying my tribute to fashion I thought at first that segregation, poverty, lack of education were to be blamed. But moving up the social ladder I found that the same ratio was prevalent among the white-collar employees and among the students. More impressive still were the results among the professors. Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction Δ of the professors are stupid. So bewildered was I by the results, that I made a special point to extend my research to a specially selected group, to a real elite, the Nobel laureates. The result confirmed Nature’s supreme powers: Δ fraction of the Nobel laureates are stupid.”

Mr Cippola claims this to be an “Iron” law, it does not change, it has no exceptions.

Law 3               A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

This law is supported by the claim that there are 4 categories of Human

  1. The Helpless. These are the people who would interact with someone, and in doing so, they would lose from the experience while the other person gained from it
  2. The Intelligent. People who, in interactions with others, create a situation known as Win/Win, where both participants came out ahead
  3. The Bandit. Those who always win from an interaction while the other person loses.
  4. The StupidYou guessed it…the people who create interactions where both parties always come out losing.

To Illustrate this, an Illustration of all 4 by James Donnelly



Law 4               Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.

In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

The Helpless just do not recognise the dangers of the Stupid, it is in their nature after all

Both Bandits and Intelligent people seems to miss the warning signs of the stupid, probably due to complacency, and possibly also hint of arrogance or superiority cloaking the danger.

The real problems arise when the Stupid seek out others of the same kind. It can only end in disaster.

“Through centuries and millennia, in public as in private life, countless individuals have failed to take account of the Fourth Basic Law and the failure has caused mankind incalculable losses.”


Law 5               A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit after all you know where you stand with a bandit.

The result of the action of a perfect bandit is purely and simply a transfer of wealth and/or welfare. After the action of a perfect bandit, the bandit has a plus on his account which plus is exactly equivalent to the minus he has caused to another person so society as a whole is neither better nor worse off.

If all members of a society were perfect bandits the society would remain stagnant but there would be no major disaster.

When stupid people are at work, the story is totally different. Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account, so society as a whole is impoverished.

In other words, the Helpless with overtones of intelligence, the Bandits with overtones of intelligence and above all the Intelligent all contribute in different degrees, to accrue to the welfare of a society.

On the other hand, the bandits with overtones of stupidity and the helpless with overtones of stupidity manage to add losses to those caused by stupid people thus enhancing the nefarious destructive power of the latter group.


Summary and Thinking Cap time

All this suggests some reflection on the performance of societies.

According to the Second Basic Law, the fraction of stupid people is a constant Δ which is not affected by time, space, race, class or any other sociocultural or historical variable. It would be a profound mistake to believe the number of stupid people in a declining society is greater than in a developing society. Both such societies are plagued by the same percentage of stupid people.

The difference between the two societies is that in the society which performs poorly:

  1. the stupid members of the society are allowed by the other members to become more active and take more actions.
  2. there is a change in the composition of the non-stupid section with a relative decline of populations of Intelligence, Helplessness and Banditry.

Whether one considers classical, or medieval, or modern or contemporary times one is impressed by the fact that any country moving uphill has its unavoidable Δ fraction of stupid people.

However, the country moving uphill also has an unusually high fraction of intelligent people who manage to keep the Δ fraction at bay and at the same time produce enough gains for themselves and the other members of the community to make progress a certainty.

In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to Δ; however, in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity and among those not in power, an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals.

Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the Δ fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.

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Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

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Tony Broomfield
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