Interesting question from EconLog reader Jonas Graham, reprinted with his permission.

Dear Mr. Caplan,

I read your book “The Case Against Education,” well, as much as I could read for free off Amazon and Google Books, anyway. 😛  I might buy it, eventually…

You say that college is the best way to signal to an employer that you are intelligent, conscientious and conform to social norms.  Other ways such as maintaining a Science Fiction blog, copying the dictionary or eating Kosher, despite being a goy, would just come off as “weird”.

However, there is one way to signal that you are conscientious and conform to social norms, in fact *WAAAAY* more than college: enlisting in the military.  The military is very respected and very much not “weird”, especially in the US.  Even in the bluest of “blue states”, you will see USO lounges at airports, military discounts, etc.  Soldiers work hard, are very disciplined (for example, they have to make their bed every morning, even though it’s stupid and there’s really no point!) and do they ever conform to social norms!

Alas, it doesn’t really signal intelligence, but, of the three, that’s the easiest to measure: you could just have them do an IQ test.  The military, itself, administers an IQ test, of sorts, called the ASVAB.  Although it would be “weird” to put one’s ASVAB score on one’sresumé, certain military jobs are reserved for people with high ASVAB scores, for example: Military “Intelligence” and Psy Ops.  Wouldn’t somebody with military experience in one of those fields also signal intelligence?

Have you ever come across any data comparing career success of college graduates vs. military vets?  I have found the following anecdotal account about how many employers still prefer a Bachelor’s degree to military experience and the author talks about how military experience should signal the same things as a Bachelor’s degree, but employers don’t seem to “pick up” on these signals.

I have seen your interview on the Rubin Report, by the way, and I know you are a “pacifist” but, considering how big the US military is and how many vets there are, I wonder if you ever looked into this or just what’s your take? Perhaps you talk about this in the parts of the book I missed? 😛

Anyway, huge fan!  Thanks for the enlightening read!


Jonas Graham