The Laws of Stupidity

According to Carlo M, Cipolla, a Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, in his essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, there are five fundamental laws of stupidity:

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

If any estimate of the number of stupid people would be low, then that would mean that the fraction of stupid people that is correct would be above any estimate.  So is the fraction of the people that are stupid 1/1, or everyone?  This sounds harsh, but, in an odd way, it seems accurate.

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

This particular statement is intriguing.  If a person can be stupid regardless of any other characteristic, even one that might be evidence otherwise, can a person that is smart be stupid?  In my opinion, yes.

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

Cipolla refers to this as the “golden law”.  This is how Cipolla defines stupidity.  While I agree that someone who harms others without benefiting themselves is stupid, I do not think that this is the only way a person can be stupid.  I think that the definition of stupidity should be broad, like “stupidity is acting against logic or one’s own knowledge.”

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.

This law again deals with underestimating stupid people.  The first law was about the number of stupid people and this is about their power.  If stupid people are so numerable and powerful, then it seems that it would be nearly impossible to avoid them, and as such nearly impossible to avoid making a “costly mistake”.  This reinforces the saying, “everyone makes mistakes.”

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

The fifth law resembles the fourth.  The reason stupid people are so dangerous is because they are irrational.  They do not plan out their actions before they carry them out.  As a result, they cause losses to others without seeking out their own gain.   They are especially dangerous because the losses they bring to others unintentional and so a stupid person could, anywhere, at any time, without warning, harm another.

While I find these laws to be thought-provoking, I do not agree entirely with them.  It is not so much any individual law that I disagree with, but the concept of writing laws for stupidity altogether.  Laws imply some sort of limitation and I do not believe that stupidity has any limits.

limitless stupidity



The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity,


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  1. We live in an age of measurement and data collection. This is probably why I really enjoyed this post…combines information and your response to that information very clearly….particularly your last line!
    very informative or deeply reflective; synthesizes learned content and constructs new meaning; well organized written in an interesting style and voice; words used are carefully chosen, memorable, and bring the content to life; sentence fluency is smooth and naturally expressive; all words spelled correctly; no grammar errors; formatting makes the post more interesting and easier to read; Need to use more than use a piece of multimedia to infer perspective to post; post is fully categorized


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