Love for Sale? Well, Maybe Internships
Published on: April 28, 2012
show comments
  • Mrs. Davis

    Or maybe we could lower (or eliminate) the minimum wage, since it clearly exceeds the marginal productivity of these whelps.

  • Gary L

    WRM says:

    Come in a mail room guy and you might get promoted to some other service function.

    No less a figure than Walter Cronkite warned us against the mailroom.

    “One word of caution about the mailroom: it is a place out of which you must get. Do not get stuck in the mailroom. Plan to rise.”

    – How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1995 revival)

    Unfortunately, the idea that we can succeed in business (et al.) without really trying has become rather ingrained in the American psyche of late….

  • Jim.

    One thing I see happening more and more is the tendency of the great mass of people, upon finding a good idea, depending more and more upon that idea until the reason it was a good idea is finally lost, and it becomes destructive of the very ends it was meant to serve.

    Need a way to find good college candidates? Develop the SAT. Well, before long you have SAT prep growing up around it, gaming the system and defeating the original purpose.

    How about extra-curricular activities? Well, those sports teams now get to demand an outrageous commitment that forestalls any involvement in other valuable activities like Scouts and after-school jobs. Again, self-defeating.

    College itself? Now, a cushy degree-factory offering useless classes and overwhelming debts. It’s a path to the poorhouse, not prosperity.

    It isn’t just in education. Does a bit of credit allow a wider range of people to buy medium- and big-ticket items, like houses, cars, and home appliances? Open the credit spigots! Free money for everyone! Lead to a crash? Of course not!

    Can government provide money to keep people from starvation? Well, if it can do that, why not guarantee jobs, housing, comfortable retirement, every health-care need you can imagine?? (What do you mean we can’t afford it?)

    Same thing with internships. They’re a good and useful idea. But the discovery of internships as the new Easy Way to Get Ahead fashion has perhaps done some grievous harm to the institution. Is paying for internships the new Apprenticeship, or the new Simony?

    Honestly, what we need here is a return to virtue. With a work ethic, commitment to learning, the sense that you must approach debt carefully and with the full intent to honor it, with a sense of doing what we can while scrupulously keeping government spending within government revenue, we can make all of these things work.

    When we concentrate only on the good that things can presumably do and on their outer forms, instead of giving adequate attention to HOW it’s supposed to do good and what virtues are necessary for it to do good (and how it can go wrong if we don’t have those virtues), we’re just Cargo Culting at best, and at worst inviting the Next Big Crash.

  • Sounds like China.

  • Walter Sobchak

    I have three children, 24, 27, and 30.

    The oldest majored in theater, and had to serve 6 months without pay before they would put her on the payroll.

    The younger ones majored in Math, and neither one had to serve an internship.

  • dearieme

    My father could remember the days when you paid to do an apprenticeship.

    Mind you, it was only half-a-dozen years ago that a young chum of mine was paid to do an internship one summer in a City law firm.

  • Anthony

    Do internships = social order acculturation/opportunity? Are internships a class strategy accessing competitive economic resources? Do capitalist create opportunities/jobs or do (in acceptable economy) purchasing power/opportunity of both working and middle class enrich capitalist? Perhaps, rethinking economic paradigm may bring another perspective to internship/apprenticeship conundrum.

  • C. Phillips

    One (or several) such internships as a replacement for a BA in Comparative Literature, instead of in addition to the degree, is probably much less expensive and for most people much more valuable.

  • John Barker

    Instead of relying on inflated grade averages, inflated college entrance exam scores,enhanced resumes and other measures which have been successfully gamed, business needs to organize and control testing that really measures critical thinking abilities or domain specific knowledge as is done already in engineering and accounting. The hiring pool begins with the top quartile in each test. I assume of course that business really depends on knowledge and intelligence.

  • CitiKitty

    I and the “Old Grey Lady”* agree with Mrs.Davis that “The Right Minimum Wage (should be):$0.00”.

    * Back in 1987, when her tresses were just going salt&pepper.

  • Douglas Levene

    The solution to the internship racket is simple. The Federal Government needs to start enforcing the minimum wage laws. Those laws require companies to pay minimum wages but make exceptions for interns who (i) are being given college credit for their work and (ii) are not performing work of economic value for the company. These Government is happy to enforce these laws when the result is that minority children can’t get jobs because they aren’t worth the minimum wage, but (under both Democratic and Republican presidents) the Government has no interest in enforcing these laws when doing so might jeopardize the chances that some upper class child might not make a smooth transition into the working world.

  • HeatherRadish

    “and waste untold days and weeks on trivial assignments”

    My 7-year-old niece lost two afternoons of classroom time this month for Earth Day: the children spent them performing unpaid manual labor, picking up litter in a state and a local park.

    I’m a big fan of child labor–at that age I spent Saturdays helping my parents and grandparents do yardwork and gardening–but if it replaces their education, their lives will be much smaller, much harder. The “educators” and labor reformers of the 19th century recognized this; the “educators” of the 21st can’t or won’t.

  • Douglas Levene

    Further clarification. Academic credit is not required, but it is absolutely clear that the internship has to provide training comparable to what an educational institution would provide and that the employer derive no economic benefit from the intern. One of the six criteria issued by the Government states, “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the
    activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.” How many of those Hollywood movie studio and NY publishing internships meet that criteria, I wonder.

  • Richard F. Miller

    Selling internships is just another self-financing technique in a world where standards of living are in decline. They’re analogous to the fees governments began charging long ago to visit what was once a “free” public park. Think of airline baggage fees, municipalities charging for once free services such as garbage collection or water.

    Institutions no longer have the abundance to provide pro bono things that actually cost real money. No objections here–perhaps it’s a more honest way of life. But whatever one thinks of its “morality” the larger significance is how it feeds into all Blue Model tick tock on this and other sites.

    WRM concedes that the shift from Blue Model to the great unknown will have have unknown consequences. Auctioning off internships likely is one of these.

  • @ #3 Jim — well said.

  • Boritz

    As long as I can remember the managers doing the hiring (of new college graduates) have had nothing but contempt for the lack of preparation the academy provides the students for entering the real world of work. This includes both a lack of general preparation to function in an office setting (The company doesn’t give us off spring break?” You’re kidding!”) as well as a lack of specific commercial technical skills that would allow a new hire to become productive within the organization the same afternoon they are hired.

    The academy likewise, has had nothing but contempt for any perceived need that they offer such preparation. This is especially true of specific commercial skills. “We are not a trade school!” they will say. “We are teaching concepts that the student will be able to generalize to any situation [eventually].”

    As a culture we have gotten away with this disconnect for a time, though not without pain. Now it seem to be reaching crisis proportions. The insanity (what else could it be) that you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job was always dumb (as well as crazy).

  • teapartydoc

    The one thing in the movie Soylent Green (or it could have been the book–did both) that turned out to be a bit accurate was the purchasing of job opportunities. When a society is collapsing in a pile of corruption while still maintaining most of its former hierarchies jobs are so few that the competition for them boils down to whether or not you are willing to pay to get your foot in the door, rather than qualifications. Right now “willing to pay” means either that you are willing to pay the price of a better house than you live in to send your kid to get a piece of paper in a college, or borrowing enough to do so. When things get so bad that the average person can’t afford to do this, the corruption simply follows the mass of people down the ladder to the next level. You want an answer as to how to stop this? Get rid of government-recognized credentials, and when private associations take over credentialing, don’t give official sanction to ANY of them. Keep them competing.

  • Kansas Scott

    There are times when I think Via Media needs to heal thyself. In your excellent piece today on the NYT’s coverage of the recall election in Wisconsin, you write “a more narrowly focused, better thought through, less confrontational approach could have made the necessary reforms with a lot less trouble and polarization.”

    Here you take a fascinating insight into the selling of internships and turn it into a meandering slog of “mosts” and “manys” bemoaning the state of our youth and their education.

    There are huge problems (as there have always been) in our education of today’s young. But look at your starving interns and recognize that they are not freaks (at least most of them) but a sample of the remarkable talent and innovation that the upcoming generation offers.

    Please use less carpet-bombing and more surgical strikes in your important critiques of what we are doing to the young. They will survive and thrive despite our best efforts.

  • D. Cohen

    “Getting a job and launching a career in many places these days is less like applying to GM’s young executive program in 1955 and more like trying to break into Hollywood.”

    I was very interested to see this sentence, because it immediately called to mind the notorious Hollywood “casting couch”. People being what they are — on the whole, not very nice — I’ll bet that it’s not only Clinton’s white-house interns who find themselves forced to deal with this sort of situation nowadays.

  • The Only Thing That Can Stop This Asteroid is Your Liberal Arts Degree.

  • I grew up on a farm no stranger to real work, but then went to an Ivy League college without the slightest idea of how to approach the world of non agricultural work. Oh I knew that shovels and hoes were not required but that was about it. I chose badly and was lucky to end up with a reasonable academic career. In retrospect I wish I had gone to one of the ‘co-op’ plan schools like Antioch or Northeastern where the program was to work and study alternate semesters. It took 5 years but I would have had a much better idea of work and my own likes and strengths.

  • Arthur E. Smith

    My grandson, a junior ME student, has been granted a “summer internship” with an international corporation. It pays more than twice minimum wage plus a mileage allowance. He had the resume to get an interview plus the chops to qualify, plus years of family support.

    Nowhere in the article or comments did I see credit for a STEM course.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Arthur E. Smith: The benefits of STEM courses are frequently discussed on the site, both in the posts and in the comments. Keep reading!

  • Koblog

    Really? School doesn’t prepare students for work? Impossible.

    How can this be when the majority, if not all, of the professors took degrees that made them suitable only to be…professors?

    Honestly, who in industry is going to hire a PhD in Gender Studies solely because she has multiple degrees in Gender Studies? So what does she do? Gets a job at a university, teaching this dreck to more suckers.

    Add to this the disdain heaped by the professoriat upon those with real-world experience should any of them seek to pass on their experience as teachers.

    I read of such a person who volunteered to teach FOR FREE and was rejected because the teacher’s union didn’t want the competition.

    Wouldn’t look good for a teacher who didn’t cost the district a dime to become beloved by the students and at the same time expose the myriad other hyper-expensive teachers as failures typical of our failed gubment ejamacation system.

  • thibaud

    Apprenticeships work for guilds that have legal privileges and statutory requirements for entry. Not sure that the guild model is best suited to our economy today.

    Maybe WRM meant “co-op education” instead of apprenticeships?

    Suggestion: it would be worth studying the German model of co-op or vocational education closely to see which aspects we can leverage in the US.

  • I had been doing some form of paid work every summer since the age of 15. The summer after my freshman year of college, I landed two jobs: one in accounting and one in an engineering firm. (I majored in engineering.) I was paid very well by 19-year-old standards, and continued with one of the companies until I started law school, moving my way up the pay scale.

    What shocked me, upon entering law school, was the expectation that I could and should work for free – i.e. less than I had been paid since the age of 15. Okay, I understand when it’s for a non-profit, as limited dollars can’t go to summer interns, but the expectation that a college-educated person in her mid-twenties who had earned 1.3 (or 1.67, depending on the summer), would work for free, is shocking.

    I’m also appalled at the “internship” system devised by many law schools, in which students will take on full-time, unpaid work for a semester’s worth of academic credit, and still have to pay full tuition to the school.

    I have nothing against hard work or paying your dues, but there comes a point at which it becomes ridiculous to ask people to work for free under the guise of mentoring them. The only advice I have is for students to avoid any field that expects anyone to work for free as a condition of entrance, unless it is a formal apprenticeship.

  • Ack, that should be “1.33 or 1.67 professional degrees”

  • Given the increasingly high-octane quality of comment from the likes of Jim., thibaud, Luke Lea, Lorenz Gude, Ulysses S Rant and many others (BTW, any clues as to where Eurydice, nadine, Toni and WigWag might have disappeared to?) – PLUS the usual seasoned, (mostly) empirical optimism and common sense we’ve come to expect from Via Meadia – and you know, I think we just MAY be starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

    The commentary tunnel, anyway.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.