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Stupidity is thinking and behavior that is characteristic of stupid people, i.e. those lacking intelligence and common sense. The use of the term with reference to those who adopt fallacious beliefs is questionable, just as it questionable to refer to such people as mentally ill. Even highly intelligent people, who are quite competent in some areas of endeavor, are less competent in other areas.[1][2] In some cases, that lack of competence is in the area of political or economic thought.

There are scientists who devoted their entire careers to theories that turned out to be totally mistaken.[3] An example would be alchemists who attempted to transmute lead into gold. Yet they are usually not viewed as stupid for following up a lead that turned out to be a dead end.[4]

Many people are less forgiving of error in the fields of politics and economics, and more inclined to view those with whom they disagree as stupid. One could argue that the reason for this is that the politician or economist who errs could contribute to the promulgation of flawed policies that waste resources. But the error of the physical scientist also wastes resources, including his own labor, and society is worse off as a result, except to the extent that knowledge has advanced by the ruling out of another theory as incorrect. Furthermore, as Ludwig von Mises notes, because of the epistemological problems of economics, "The economist can never refute the economic cranks and quacks in the way in which the doctor refutes the medicine man and the charlatan."

A proper use of the term "stupidity" might be to refer to thinking or behavior that a person should have known better than to engage in. For example, Mises notes:

Metaphors are often very useful in elucidating complicated problems and in making them comprehensible to less intelligent minds. But they become misleading and result in nonsense if people forget that every comparison is imperfect. It is silly to take metaphorical idioms literally and to deduce from their interpretation features of the object one wished to make more easily understandable by their use. There is no harm in the economists' description of the operation of the market as automatic and in their custom of speaking of the anonymous forces operating on the market. They could not anticipate that anybody would be so stupid as to take these metaphors literally.

According to Mises, "Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression."[5]


  1. "A critical examination of the philosophical systems constructed by mankind's great thinkers has very often revealed fissures and flaws in the impressive structure of those seemingly consistent and coherent bodies of comprehensive thought. Even the genius in drafting a world view sometimes fails to avoid contradictions and fallacious syllogisms."
  2. Shermer, Michael (13 December 2011). "Skeptic Michael Shermer Answers Your Questions". "As to why do smart people screw up anyway? Well, they are no less subject to all the subjective biases than the rest of us. We all have the same brains. The only thing smart people are better at is rationalizing their dumb ideas to other people." 
  3. "The doctors who a hundred years ago employed certain methods for the treatment of cancer which our contemporary doctors reject were — from the point of view of present-day pathology — badly instructed and therefore inefficient. But they did not act irrationally; they did their best."
  4. Mises, Ludwig von (1949). "The Fight Against Error". Human Action. "Man is liable to error. If to err were the characteristic feature of mental disability, then everybody should be called mentally disabled." 
  5. Mises, Ludwig von. "Tolerance". Liberalism.