“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”
Unfortunately stupidity seems to have always been with us. There are countless examples of stupid people making monumentally stupid decisions throughout history.
However it was not until 1976 that the definitive essay on the subject was written. The author was an Italian economist named Professor Carlo M Cipolla and he called his pioneering work “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”. If fasab had a hall of fame, he’d be in it.
The Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity
Professor Cipolla taught at several universities in Italy, and for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. He also wrote books and studies about clocks, guns, depressions, faith, reason, monetary policy, and money. In fact I first heard of him at University where some of his books appeared on our reading lists. Sadly his “Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity” was not on our lists, I would have enjoyed it even then!
His essay about stupidity encompasses all those other topics, and perhaps all of human experience.
Professor Cipolla wrote out the laws in plain language. They are akin to laws of nature – a seemingly basic characteristic of the universe.
Here they are:
1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
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.
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.
It has been said that Professor Cipolla’s “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” give an X-ray view of what distinguishes countries on the rise from those that are falling, or failing.
Countries moving uphill have an inevitable percentage of stupid people, yes. But they enjoy “an unusually high fraction of intelligent people” who collectively over compensate for the dumbos.
Declining nations, on the other hand, have instead, an “alarming proliferation” of non-stupid people whose behavior “inevitably strengthens the destructive power” of their persistently stupid fellow citizens. There are two distinct, unhelpful groups: “bandits” who take positions of power which they use for their own gain; and people out of power who sigh through life as if they are helpless.
In 1999 two psychologists at Cornell University wrote a study with the fabulous title, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Without mentioning any form of the word “stupidity”, it serves as an enlightening and dismaying supplement to the basic laws.
Unfortunately Professor Cipolla died in 2000. But thankfully there are others to take up the mantle.
You could be one of them. Like I say almost every day, “Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”.