I can't remember the name of this story, but it stuck in my mind as it's so humorous. This great vintage story is set in the future when tourist space travel is beginning. The 10% of the population are the leaders, while the 90% are the commoners. Very amusing how the author describes entertainments and other habits of the people, and the elite. Very funny ending.

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    Wait, so you are saying the % of intelligent people has increased to 10% from where it is today? Hooray!
    – JK.
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:14
  • 1
    The Marching Morons? Jun 14, 2016 at 6:38
  • 1
    It was a weak suggestion, hence made as a comment. But leaving the answer with the response that that ain't it is helpful to rule it out for others. Jun 14, 2016 at 7:08
  • possibly the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/213704/… (which is newer but has an accepted answer)
    – Otis
    Jun 9, 2019 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


"The Marching Morons" (1951) by Cyril M. Kornbluth has a Wikipedia page and is available at Project Gutenberg; it is set in the same universe as Kornbluth's earlier story "The Little Black Bag".

The situation is explained to John Barlow, a man from the past who has been revived from suspended animation:

"We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and shortsightedly having children—breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!"

"Wait a minute!" objected Barlow. "There were lots of people in our crowd who had two or three children."

"The attrition of accidents, illness, wars and such took care of that. Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they'll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is 45."

"But that's far in the future—"

"So are you," grunted the hawk-faced man sourly.

"But who are you people?"

"Just people—real people. Some generations ago, the geneticists realized at last that nobody was going to pay any attention to what they said, so they abandoned words for deeds. Specifically, they formed and recruited for a closed corporation intended to maintain and improve the breed. We are their descendants, about three million of us. There are five billion of the others, so we are their slaves.

"During the past couple of years I've designed a skyscraper, kept Billings Memorial Hospital here in Chicago running, headed off war with Mexico and directed traffic at La Guardia Field in New York."

The morons are easily entertained:

"The show of shows! The supershow! The super-duper show! The quiz of quizzes! Take It and Stick It!"

There were shrieks of laughter in the background.

"Here we got the contes-tants all ready to go. You know how we work it. I hand a contes-tant a triangle-shaped cutout and like that down the line. Now we got these here boards, and they got cutout places the same shape as the triangles and things, only they're all different shapes, and the first contes-tant that sticks the cutouts into the boards, he wins."

"Now I'm gonna innaview the first contes-tant. Right here, honey. What's your name?"

"Name? Uh—"

"Hoddaya like that, folks? She don't remember her name! Hah? Would you buy that for a quarter?" The question was spoken with arch significance, and the audience shrieked, howled and whistled in appreciation.

They are easily fooled:

The automobiles have a top speed of one hundred kilometers per hour—a kilometer is, if I remember my paleolinguistics, three-fifths of a mile—and the speedometers are all rigged accordingly so the drivers will think they're going two hundred and fifty.

The story is satirical but not particularly humorous and does not have a "very funny ending". In fact it ends with a Hitler-style holocaust. The population problem is solved by putting all the morons on rockets "to Venus":

Los Angeles loved the idea and a forest of spaceships began to blossom in the desert. They weren't very good spaceships but they didn't have to be.

A team at the Pole worked at Barlow's direction on a mail setup. There would have to be letters to and from Venus to keep the slightest taint of suspicion from arising. Luckily Barlow remembered that the problem had been solved once before—by Hitler. Relatives of persons incinerated in the furnaces of Lublin or Majdanek continued to get cheery postal cards.

The Los Angeles flight went off on schedule, under tremendous press, newsreel and television coverage. The world cheered the gallant Angelenos who were setting off on their patriotic voyage to the land of milk and honey. The forest of spaceships thundered up, and up, and out of sight without untoward incident. Billions envied the Angelenos, cramped and on short rations though they were.

  • Yes and no. Same subject matter, but the end solution to the problem is selling tickets to travel to the moon, or live on the moon, and no one ever comes back.
    – Fey Ray
    Jun 14, 2016 at 4:11
  • Sounds like the precursor to Idiocracy
    – WernerCD
    Jun 14, 2016 at 5:29
  • @WernerCD: It was cited as a major influence, I believe.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 14, 2016 at 11:44
  • solution is sending the morons to Venus-forever
    – Fey Ray
    Jun 14, 2016 at 15:52
  • No not the Marching Morons. this story is pretty short and uncomplicated in its plot, characters, ect..
    – Fey Ray
    Jun 15, 2016 at 17:21

You're either thinking of The Space Merchants or conflating The Space Merchants with The Marching Morons. (The Space Merchants was co-written by Kornbluth, with Pohl.)

  • The 10% elite are trying to figure out what to do with the rest - check! (Where the elite are corporation executives and the most professional of all professional classes: the advertising men!)

  • Lots of descriptions of amusing entertainments for executives and proles - check! E.g., "Golf", a sport reserved for executives is - extremely miniature golf played on little machines (like Ski-Ball). Etc. etc.

  • Space travel to other planets is in the early days - check!

  • Solution is to ship people off to colonize Venus - check!

  • Funny ending - check! (Or ironic, or plot-twisted, or something. Typical Kornbluth/Pohl.)

The Space Merchants is a ROFL satire, esp. given its 1950s point-of-view on where the author's thought society was headed. (In contrast The Marching Morons would probably be characterized as "dark humor"/"black comedy".)

There were a lot of covers over the years, here's one I remember:

enter image description here

A sequel, The Merchant's War, is worth reading too, but not as good. I especially like, in The Merchant's War, the extremely addictive cola drink ... forget its name ... "moky oke"? "moke cola"? Whatever, once you've had one sip, you gotta have more!

  • Unbelievable ! This was written in 1953, and so many things that the author wrote about are true today. The food, the water, big business-most prophetic !
    – Fey Ray
    Jun 15, 2016 at 5:09
  • We still haven't found it !!Oh no, I hope I tagged it right, it is a short story. Also I remember something about how they actually shot people into space, a one way trip . Also remember something about how simple and easily entertained and fooled the people were.
    – Fey Ray
    Jun 15, 2016 at 5:26
  • Did you read "The Marching Morons" (which is, as a noted in my answer, available for free at Project Gutenberg)? It is a short story (OK, novelette, so a long short story); the morons are easily entertained and fooled, and at the end they are sent on one-way rockets to space. In what way does the story you remember differ from "The Marching Morons"?
    – user14111
    Jun 15, 2016 at 5:35

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