The Five Basic Laws of Human Stupidity


When I left Rome to go to graduate school in 2001, one of the farewell gifts I received from an Italian friend was a copy of Carlo Cipolla’s Allegro ma non troppo.

Cipolla was an economist at Berkeley until his death in 2000; Allegro ma non troppo is a collection of his tongue-in-cheek essays.

The title can be interpreted in a few ways. The whole expression is often found in music, where it means “Fast but not too much.” “Allegro” can mean happy or cheerful, but it can also mean superficial or thoughtless, and I think Cipolla meant it in the latter sense, i.e., “Superficial, but not too much” given that the essays in the book are, for the most part, satirical.

The book’s most popular essay is The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity which, because Cipolla had always explicitly stated that Allegro ma non troppo was in the public domain, you can read in its entirety here in English; here it is in book form, should you need to carry these around.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to Cipolla’s essay on my blog this week. Maybe I have encountered inordinate amounts of stupidity in 2012, who knows? At any rate, I reproduce the five basic laws of human stupidity here. Read the whole essay for a discussion of each law.

The Five Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

  1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. The Golden Law of Human Stupidity: 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.
  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.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person. Corollary: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.

HT: Jacob A. Geller.

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