Carlo Maria Cipolla


Carlo Maria Cipolla

Carlo Maria Cipolla (1922-2000) was an Italian economic historian. He was born in Pavia, where he got his academic degree in 1944.

Through his study of economic history, he showed a keen interest in the causes that prompted specific economic and social situations during history, instead of focusing on facts and figures. He was noted as well for his work on overpopulation and his essays on human stupidity.

Biography

As a young man, Cipolla wanted to teach history and philosophy in an Italian high school, and therefore enrolled at the political science faculty at Pavia University. Whilst a student there, thanks to professor Franco Borlandi, a specialist in Medieval economic history, he discovered his passion for the history of economics. Subsequently he studied at the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics.

Cipolla obtained his first teaching post in economic history in Catania at the age of 27. This was to be the first stop in a long academic career in Italy (Venice, Turin, Pavia, Pisa and Fiesole) and abroad. In 1953 Cipolla left for the United States as a Fulbright fellow and in 1957 became a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years later he obtained a full professorship. Cipolla was welcomed as a member of many prestigious academies and in 1995 received the Balzan prize.

Allegro ma non troppo

Cipolla's most popular work is a collection of two tongue-in-cheek essays on economics, first published in 1988 with the title "Allegro ma non troppo" ("Happy but not by too much" or, as in music, "Quickly, but not too quick").

The first essay, "The Fundamental Laws of Human Stupidity", explores the controversial subject of stupidity. Stupid people are seen as a group, more powerful by far than major organizations such as the Mafia and the industrial complex, which without regulations, leaders or manifesto nonetheless manages to operate to great effect and with incredible coordination.

These are Cipolla's five fundamental laws of stupidity:
# "Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation."
# "The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person."
# "A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process."
# "Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error."
# "A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is."

As is evident from the third law, Cipolla identifies two factors to consider when exploring human behaviour:
*Benefits and losses that an individual causes to others.
*Benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself.By creating a graph with the first factor on the x-axis and the second on the y-axis, we obtain four groups of people:
*"Intelligent people" (top right)
*"Helpless / Naive people" (bottom right)
*"Bandits" (top left)
*"Stupid people" (bottom left)

Cipolla further refines his definition of "Bandits" and "Helpless People" by noting that members of these groups can either add to or detract from the general welfare, depending on the relative gains (or losses) that they cause themselves and society. A bandit may enrich himself more or less than he impoverishes society, and a helpless person may enrich society more or less than he impoverishes himself. Graphically, this idea is represented by a line of slope -1, which bisects the second and fourth quadrants and intersects the y-axis at the origin. The helpless people and bandits to the left of this line are thus semi "stupid," because they represent a net drain of societal welfare.

The second essay, "The role of spices (and black pepper in particular) in Medieval Economic Development", traces the curious correlation between spice import and population expansion in the late Middle Ages, postulating a causation due to a supposed aphrodisiac effect of black pepper.

Works

* "Studi di Storia della Moneta" (1948)
* "Mouvements monétaires dans l'Etat de Milan" (1951)
* "Money, Prices and Civilization" (1956)
* "L' avventura della lira" (1958)
* "Storia dell'economia italiana: Saggi di storia economica" (1959)
* "Economic History of World Population" (1962)
* "Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400-1700" (1965)
* "Clocks and Culture" (1967)
* "Literary and Development in the West" (1969)
* "The economic decline of empires" (1970)
* "European culture and overseas expansion" (1970)
* "Economic History of Europe" (1973)
* "Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Tuscany" (1977)
* "The technology of man: A visual history" (1980)
* "Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth Century Italy" (1981)
* "The Monetary Policy of Fourteenth Century Florence" (1982)
* "Allegro ma non troppo" (1988)
* "Between Two Cultures: An Introduction to Economic History" (1992)
* "Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000-1700" (1994)

External links

* [http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2000/09/13_cipolla.html UC's obituary]
* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/8815009450 Review of one of Cipolla's works]


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