The fundamental principles of human folly have been around since antiquity. However, the most definitive account on the matter was only written in 1976 by an Italian economist. Carlo M Cipolla was a professor who taught at several universities in Italy and the University of California, Berkeley. He was also an author and researcher on topics such as clocks, guns, money, and faith. In his essay about stupidity, he tackles all of these themes and more, encapsulating what is arguably the entirety of the human experience.
Cipolla outlines the laws of human stupidity in plain language, making them seem like natural laws that govern the universe. They are as follows:
1. Everyone always underestimates the number of stupid people in circulation.
2. The likelihood of a person being stupid is unrelated to any other trait they exhibit.
3. A stupid person is one who causes others to incur losses while receiving no gain themselves.
4. Non-stupid individuals consistently underestimate the detrimental impact that stupid people can have on them.
Cipolla’s essay offers insight into the factors that differentiate countries on the ascent from those that are steadily declining. Nations that are advancing have a small percentage of stupid people, while possessing a higher than average fraction of intelligent individuals who compensate for any shortcomings that may arise. On the other hand, nations that are on the decline have an alarming proliferation of non-stupid individuals whose actions ultimately contribute to the self-destructive behaviour of their persistently foolish countrymen.
Cipolla’s ideas have inspired a generation of researchers and pundits to examine the role of stupidity in our daily lives. It is a topic that has gained traction in recent years, with the publication of studies that examine how people perceive their own competence, especially within the context of decision-making.
Cipolla died in 2000, but his legacy lives on. His contributions to the analysis of societal stupidity continue to inform and shape our thinking on a variety of subjects. In future articles, we will delve into how scientists and researchers are beginning to apply Cipolla’s work to issues of governance and policy-making, using modern mathematics to find more effective ways to select political leaders who are capable of producing laws that benefit society.