Recently, I decided to resign my appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. This was not an easy decision, but I’m convinced it was the right one given the sum of evidence I had available. The bottom line is that this was a careful, dispassionate, utilitarian decision that I had to make in order to maximize my expected impact on the world. The primary supportive reason was the comparative advantage argument.
In any organizations with a finite number of jobs available and more demand for the jobs than supply (e.g. the United States Army), the impact of one’s actions that one can take credit for is not merely all the good that one does through one’s role, but the marginal difference of the impact of one’s actions over the impact of the actions of the person who would have taken the job otherwise. Merely doing a good job, even if doing that job is very taxing on oneself, does not mean one is actually causing that much of an impact. Rather, one’s labor is only especially useful in a given job if the person they are replacing (the next best person who would get the job otherwise) would not do as good of a job.
The equation to calculate one’s impact of taking a job is a bit more complicated than this because one must also consider the marginal impact of the displaced person who doesn’t get your job over the impact that you would have had should you have not taken the job. In essence, although I was not quantifying my intuitive sense of impact with ‘utils’, this was the situation I was facing:
|Army||55 utils||50 utils|
|Non-Army careers||X utils||30 utils|
Bob is the person wanting to commission through OCS or ROTC that the Army would permit to commission if I resigned. As you can see, even if I would have done a slightly better job than Bob (which is not guaranteed), it still makes sense for me to resign so long as my impact outside of the Army is more than ‘5 utils’ greater than Bob’s would have been.
I do not wish to share a number for how relatively impactful a career I think I can have outside the Army is. However, I believe that I can likely have an impact greater than ‘5 utils’ more than Bob’s impact outside the Army and frankly, an impact greater than what I would have had in the Army if I use my talents to work hard in especially important, solvable, and neglected cause areas.
That’s essentially it. It wasn’t an emotionally easy decision–I have read my share of military books and had many dreams of leading troops and positively shaping my future units and the Army as a whole. I fully expected to come back to the big Army after I left my position as an enlisted Army engineer Diver to attend West Point.
I could go into more depth about all the details I considered. However, seeing that you know I want to work in impactful and neglected cause areas outside of the Army, I think you get the point that my decision to resign was optimal, or at least, respectable.