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That makes sense. As to my first point, it'd point you towards this Wikipedia page. All but one war that the US has fought since WW2 has been waged against a third world country.

The US has killed over 400,000 civilians since 2001 via our wars in the Middle East.

I've previously faced a similar decision. Here is why I decided to steer clear of the American war machine:

  1. Other commenters have pointed out that American military supremacy is preferable to military supremacy by a different power. I agree. However, most of what the US military is actually doing has nothing to do with great power conflicts. The military has mostly been involved in fighting wars in third world countries. The chance that you help maintain US military supremacy is low, the chance that you create something that will help soldiers kill someone that EA is trying to help (via GiveDirectly, Givewell, etc.) is high.
  2. I believe it would be challenging for a moral person to exist in the social context of a group that is working on behalf of the U.S. military. I have a friend who I believe to be a good person at heart. He has always cared for the people around him. When offered enough money, he took a job working on a nuclear weapons related technology. At first, he justified this to himself by saying that the he was making the missiles more accurate so they could kill fewer people. But when he got to his job, that's not how his coworkers viewed things. They believed that what they were doing was morally okay because they didn't extend their moral circle past the borders of America. It's very difficult to convince yourself that you're a good person when your coworkers are flippantly discussing how they are working to help the military kill people. My friend drinks a lot now.
  3. The military industry isn't the only place offering good pay. The trade off isn't between not doubling your pay vs. working for the military industry. It's between putting more time/energy into a job search vs. working for the military industry. You can likely find a job with comparable pay elsewhere if you keep looking.

If you're an American, you can buy suncreen using your tax-free FSA - which brings the cost down ~10-40% depending on your tax bracket.

This sounds similar to a "loving-kindness meditation" (a.k.a. metta).

I didn't understand that by "debate" you meant an extended back and forth. I considered my response to be the debate. Sorry for the misunderstanding, but I am not interested in what I think you are looking for.

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. 

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