31Joined Mar 2021


Should have specified. That was meant as my debate response under the rules.

My response to Error 1:

As I understand it your key points are this:

  1. Some portion of jobs pay you like you're a college graduate but don't hire based on signalling. The marginal individual would be better served by going after those jobs instead of going to college.
  2. Starting a business is another way for the marginal individual to outperform college as an investment.
  3. Caplan doesn't consider alternatives to college besides jumping into the labor force (I believe you would agree that, as an example, taking a welding course is one such alternative).
  4. You can't just count lost earnings as a "cost" if you're going to actually consider these other options.
  5. People go to college for other reasons besides money.

Here's my response:


I get what you're saying here - in fact I was offered a software engineering job out of high school and turned it down. I a friend who made the same decision. I don't think this argument works overall, though, for three reasons. First, getting your foot in the door is decently challenging. Second, it limits your employment options in a way that's not practical. Third, college is an extremely good value proposition for the sort of person who could get a high paying job out of high school.

So how could you get your foot in the door?  In my case, a former teacher got me an internship that was meant for a college student - then I had to interview well. In the case of my friend, he had some really impressive projects on GitHub which got him noticed (for a summer job). So there's an element of luck (having connections) or perhaps innate talent (not many people, regardless of if they have a degree, build a really interesting solo project). Luck is luck, but perhaps a motivated person of average talent could build a solo project good enough to land them a job with no degree. Doing so, however, is a risky proposition. You'd be investing a lot of time and effort into a chance for a job. At the same time, you wouldn't have a good understanding of the odds because it's such an uncommon path.

Even if you landed one of those jobs, there's a good chance it would be far away from your family because companies that are willing to hire someone straight out of high school are so few and far between. Even for someone who's willing to move away from family, they'd then need to have the money saved up to make that leap. And if you do get the job? Better hope you don't get fired. If so, you'll have extremely limited employment options compared to someone with a degree because 99% of employers are simply going to throw away your resume. You may have to uproot your life and move again.

Lastly, for the few people who are in a really good position to get a high paying job out of high school, college is a really good value proposition. If you're impressive enough to land that job, you can probably also get a merit-based scholarship. You can also go to a top-tier school where you'll be able to marry rich (as Caplan discusses), network, and take advantages of opportunities for research and entrepreneurship.  Alternatively, you might be able to skate by without putting a lot of hours in and use your free time for something else, further reducing the opportunity cost of college.


Only 40% of small businesses turn a profit (https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/small-business-statistics/). A 60% chance of making no money or losing money is an unacceptable risk for 18 year olds. Where are the savings accounts that are going to pay for their food and housing if they aren't making an income?

Plus, they'd need funding. A business loan for a new entrepreneur out of high school is not a thing. They look at your personal credit score. They may require collateral. SBA loans look at invested equity.

VC-backed ventures are even riskier. Founders typically work for nothing for years (which recent high school grads just can't do because they don't have money saved up to live on) for a slim shot at getting rich.

Overall, entrepreneurship is a high risk, high reward option which is not a similar value proposition to college. 


Caplan mentions this in chapter 8. Caplan essentially argues that vocational education also pays. Comparing between vocational and collegiate education is challenging due limited data.


If you don't count opportunity costs, doesn't that make college look even better?


I agree with you - Caplan is way too dismissive of this.

Thanks, I enjoy reading these. I appreciate that you're cautious to be too strong in your criticism but I do think that Caplan's dismissal of quasi-experiments is a more or less a factual error. 

I love this idea! Would you consider reading "The Case Against Education" by Bryan Caplan? In particular, I'd be interested in errors you find in chapters 1-6 (which cover statistics about education and learning, and which I find broadly convincing). I'm really disagree with many of the arguments in chapters 7-10 (which are primarily comprised of Caplan's policy recommendations), so I would not be likely to defend many of the points made there. 

It's not clear to me why whether a system is composed of continuous functions or digital approximations of continuous functions would be a deciding factor between whether said system is conscious or not. In fact, there is empirical evidence that digital approximations of continuous functions can be part of conscious systems.

People currently have digital functions as part of their brains (brain controlled robot arms, cochlear implants, retinal prostheses). In the case of brain controlled arms, some arms are well integrated into the conscious self. For example, Nathan Copeland's robot arm is incorporated into his proprioceptive map via force feedback and position sensors.  It has been experimentally confirmed that he can sense the arm's position without visual contact and he describes this sense as proprioceptive.

Additionally, computers can be composed of substantially analog functions (e.g. systems made from analog electrical components - these are just as analog as neurons, although both systems deal in electric charge which is quantized).

I'm super new to EA and I think something like that would be very beneficial for me.

That makes sense. I took a class which covered Fermi estimation in high school and I saw a big effect on my classmates accuracy, but we spent probably two weeks or three weeks of class time + homework on that unit.

Thank you for posting this! I think the idea of Fermi problems/napkin math as something that you can practice and get better at is under-recognized. Did you end up seeing your students' accuracy improve as they completed more problems and got feedback on their answers?

Hi Alex! Strip charges 2.9% + $0.03 for most debit or credit card payments (plus extra for currency exchange or international cards). Stripe also supports ACH (eCheck) payments, which all bank accounts support, with a fee of 0.8% or $5.00, whichever is less. If the organization's Stripe account already has ACH allowed, this should be no trouble for them.

Givewell asks to receive donations under $1000 through card payment and over $1000 through check. However, not all charities are Givewell - some are happy to receive a check at $500, for instance.

Lastly, don't forget to check to see if you can use a workplace charity matching program, as many of them cover credit card fees in addition to matching your donation.

I think there are a lot of factors here. If you’re a CEO in a wheelchair, you’re certainly better off working and donating. A low-paid person who’s physically strong might be very valuable in Ukraine.

I doubt you could really estimate the utility you can’t really predict the future - Ukraine could win and we could still have many of the bad outcomes people are scared of (e.g. nuclear war, Russia attacking Europe).

There are a lot of other things you could do to promote peace - like advocating policies in the US like renewing New START and reducing the “defense” budget (or equivalent policies in your country), getting a job in arms control/foreign policy (e.g. IAEA, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation), or focusing on understudied/funded issues like landmine nonproliferation.

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