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Prof. Cipolla’s theory on stupidity

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Sometimes I tell myself to look in the mirror!




The Fundamental Laws of Human Stupidity

Carlo M. Cipolla, Professor Emeritus of Economic History at Berkeley

(Translated from http://www.giovis.com/cipolla.htm)

Big charismatic figures/demagogues multiply/attract stupids transforming

peaceful citizens into raging masses


When most of a society is stupid, then the prevalence of idiots becomes dominant and incurable


1. the stupid harm society as a whole;

2. stupid people in power do more damage than others;

3. the stupid uses democratic elections to maintain the high percentage of stupid people in power;

4. fools are more dangerous than bandits because reasonable people can understand the logic of bandits;

5. reasonable people are vulnerable by the fools because:

* Are usually surprised by the attack;

* Can not organize a rational defense because the attack has no rational structure.

First Law

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation:

a) people that we believe are rational and intelligent suddenly appear to be stupid beyond doubt;

B) day after day, we are afected in everything we do by stupid people who invariably appear in the most inconvenient places.

It's impossible to determine a percentage, since any number is too small.

Second Law

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person, as he often looks innocuous / naive, and makes you lower the guard.

If we study the percentage of stupid among the janitors who clean the classrooms after the students and teachers left, we find that is much higher than we thought. We may assume that is related to the low cultural level or the fact that people are not stupid people more opportunities to have good jobs. But if we look at students and university professors (or software designers) the rate is exactly the same.

The militant feminists will get angry, but the percentage of stupid is the same in both sexes (or all sexes depending on how they are defined) .

You cannot find any difference in the Y factor in race, ethnic, education, and so on.

Third Law

A stupid person is one who causes harm to another person or group of persons while deriving no gain himself and even possibly incurring a loss.

Fourth Law

Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people. Constantly forget that at any time and under any circumstances, treat and / or associate with stupid people infallibly proves to be a costly mistake.

Fifth Law

The stupid person is the most dangerous type of person that exists.

This is probably the most understandable laws to the common knowledge that intelligent people, hostile as they may be, are predictable, while stupid people are not.


In addition, its base Corollary: "A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit" leads us to the essence of the Theory of Cipolla. There are four types of people depending on their behavior in a transaction:

- Misfortune (Unfortunate) who with his action tends to cause damage to himself, but also creates a benefit to someone else

- Smart/Intelligent: who with his action tends to create advantages for itself, but also creates the benefit to someone else

- Bandit: who with his action tends to create advantage for himself, but at the same time hurts someone else

- Stupid/Fool: who causes damage to another person or group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring a loss

Professor Cipolla used a diagram like Figure 1.

The X axis measures the benefits derived from their actions.

The Y axis measures the benefits to others because of their actions.

Clearly, people in Quadrant I are intelligent, people in Quadrant B are the bandits, the people in Quadrant D are unfortunate or unlucky, and people in Quadrant S are the fools.

It is also quite clear that, depending on their location in this system people will have greater or lesser degree of stupidity, intelligence, banditry, etc.. You can develop a wide variety of combinations such as intelligent bandits and stupid bandits, depending on the benefit / harm ratio.

The amount of damages should be measured from the perspective of the victim and not the bandit, and that is that most of the thieves and criminals are pretty stupid.

Everyone can use this system to study the stupidity and process the application of the Theory of Cipolla in all its possible variations.

But the story does not end here.

If we draw a diagonal line between the axes, we see that the whole area which is located at the top right of this line corresponds to an improvement in the total budget of the system, while the events and people on the other side are associated with a deterioration.

You can perform a variety of interesting analysis considering the variables in each of the quadrants as d S and Sb, lb and Id, D sand Di, or subquadranti many as one wishes.

For example, the string M in the lower right side of the quadrant defines the perfect bandit, one that causes just as much damage as in turn benefits. Obviously both sides of the diagonal are the imperfect situations. Bi correspond to the smart bandits and Bs to stupid bandits.

In a world populated only by perfect Bandits the system would remain balanced, as damages and benefits eliminate each other. The same effect would occur in a world populated only by perfect Unfortunate.

Theoretically intelligent people provide the greatest contribution to society in general.

But, as it may look ugly, even the intelligent bandits contribute to an improvement in society’s balance sheet resulting in total more benefits than harm. The people unfortunate-smart, even if take individual losses can produce positive social effects.

Indeed, when the stupidity comes into the picture, the damage is enormously greater than the benefit to anyone. This proves the original point: the single most dangerous thing to any human society is stupidity.

Prof. Cipolla reports that, while the Y factor is constant over time and space, a rising society has a higher percentage of intelligent people, as a declining society has an alarming percentage of bandits with a strong factor of stupidity (sub-quadrant Bs) among the people in power and also an alarming percentage of Unfortunate (area D) among those who are not in power.

Cipolla also notes that intelligent people generally know they are, the bandits are also conscious of their attitude and also the unfortunate people have a strong suspicion that not everything goes the right way.

But the stupid people know not they are stupid, and this is one more reason that makes them extremely dangerous.

And brings us back to the painful original question: am I stupid? I passed several tests of QI with good results. Unfortunately, I know how these tests work and they do not prove anything.

Several people told me they are smart. But even that does not prove anything. These people may very possibly be too considered to tell me the truth. Or on the contrary might be trying to take advantage of my stupidity.

Or they could be as stupid as me.

I stop with a little hope: I know how I am (or were) stupid.

This indicates that I am not completely stupid.

Livraghi Corollary to the First Law of Cipolla

In each of us there is a factor of stupidity, which is always bigger than we suppose.




So when you tell that guy that the his car is not safe to drive because the tires are worn down bald, and he tells you that they are perfectly safe, now you know how to classify him.

Edited by HarrytheCarGeek
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