A further note on internships

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2013

“Paying to Learn Nothing = Legal; Paying Nothing to Learn = Illegal” [Andrew Coulson, Cato, contrasting internship ruling with the general lack of a legal or political remedy against educational institutions should you "go into serious debt [but] learn nothing of value”; more on the absence of “educational malpractice” relief; earlier here, etc.]


1 allan 06.19.13 at 10:19 am

If the interns are actually learning skills that will help them in the future, maybe an unpaid internship is worthwhile.

However, if the interns are performing mundane jobs, i.e., bringing coffee, stuffing envelopes, then they are not attaining skills (although they may be accruing something for their resume and, perhaps, recommendations). They are taking jobs away from others.

Minimum wage is not much. Especially for firms that are using these interns. I would suggest that public policy is that interns be paid minimum wage – period.

2 mojo 06.19.13 at 3:42 pm

Caveat emptor!

3 Ben 06.19.13 at 9:13 pm

However, if the interns are performing mundane jobs, i.e., bringing coffee, stuffing envelopes, then they are not attaining skills

That’s something the interns can decide for themselves quite easily, and it’s virtually impossible to determine by regulatory fiat.

They are taking jobs away from others.

The labor market is not, contrary to union propaganda, a zero sum game. Even unpaid low skilled workers free up higher skilled workers making them more productive. Greater productivity in turn boosts economic growth, increasing the demand for labor.

4 allan 06.20.13 at 9:18 am

I do not agree that public policy should be for the interns to decide for themselves. I guess there is a different philosophy at play. My thesis is that, if you have workers, you should pay those workers and that should be public policy.

I recognize that there is low-level work to be done to help high producers be more efficient. But that low-level worker should be paid for performing the job.

The purpose of an internship should not be to make high-level workers more productive, but to provide a meaningful learning opportunity for the intern.

5 Ron Miller 06.20.13 at 11:08 am

Why can’t interns decide that for themselves? Aren’t they in the best position to know if it is worthwhile to them? I mean, kids value the heck out of their time. If it is useless to them, they will be out the door in 2 seconds.

Allan are you proposing a law that say that you can’t have interns of any kind? Is there any political figure that supports that position? (I’m not being rhetorical, I’m asking. I don’t know.)

6 allan 06.20.13 at 11:22 am

I am proposing that unpaid internships should be against public policy. For most positions, pay for an intern at minimum wage is simply a nuisance.

There are a lot of things that are illegal, but perhaps should be legal. For example, why should I be punished for using cocaine at home? Why should I not be able to prostitute myself? Why cannot I and a friend(?) have a duel at 20 paces?

We live in a society and societies have rules.

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