The 5 Laws of Stupidity, According to Italian Historian Carlo Cipolla

#5: Stupid people are the most dangerous people on the planet

Edward John
4 min readApr 12, 2022
Man portrait photo created by drobotdean —

Carlo Cipolla said there are five laws of stupidity. He might have been partly joking, but it’s food for thought nonetheless.

Rule #1: Everyone underestimates the number of stupid people

No matter how many idiots you think there are around you, there are probably more. Why? Because we tend to assume people are intelligent based on superficial criteria like:

  • Job
  • Education level
  • Class
  • Race
  • Eloquence

We tend to assume that if people fulfil certain external criteria like these, they are not stupid. But actually, those things are irrelevant.

Rule #2: The probability of being stupid is independent of any other characteristic

Think of any external characteristic, whether it’s nationality, income, or profession. None of them are correlated with whether someone is stupid.

There are stupid people in every walk of life. You cannot predict a person’s stupidity based on any of these other external factors. There are even stupid Nobel Prize winners.

Rule #3: A stupid person causes losses to others without gains for themselves

Cipolla defines stupidity as a social issue. It’s all about whether you cause problems for other people without any benefit for yourself.

This is why all the other criteria are irrelevant. You might be highly educated, have a well-paid job, and talk and dress eloquently. None of that matters if you behave in ways that cause problems for you and those around you.

Think of it as a grid of four squares across two axes

  • The axis from left to right is how their behaviour benefits themselves. On the far left is behaviour that causes losses to themselves. On the far right is…



Edward John

Winnie the Pooh enthusiast. edwardjohnwritesATgmailDOTcom