An Internship in Economics

For the past few years, there has been a campaign building against the use of unpaid corporate interns. It’s another little episode of middle-class Marxism, in which the college-educate bourgeoisie starts to bang on as if they were oppressed proletarians.

The actual economic role of internships is pretty obvious. They offer a way for young people with the disadvantage of a college education to gain actual, real-world experience in their intended field, not to mention valuable professional contacts that will help them find work later on. Unpaid internships are a bargain compared to the historical norm, which you still find in many other area of the world today. The internships are paid, all right—but in the other direction. It is the apprentice who pays for the privilege of learning a trade from his master.

That’s where the middle-class Marxism comes in. As with traditional Marxism, this version entices the lowest, least-skilled employee—in this case, the greenhorn college kid—to imagine that he is somehow so essential to the process of production that he can demand wages above what the market allows.

The attempt to force employers to pay interns is having its predictable consequence. The New York Post describes the result of a lawsuit attempting to force employers to pay government-proscribed wages to their interns.

Anyone who has ever interned knows it’s less about the money than about an opportunity to gain something young people are most lacking: experience.

That’s now come to an end at Conde Nast. And it’s thanks to a few interns who got exactly what they signed up for and then sued because they got exactly what they signed up for. Though their lawsuit claiming they should have been paid minimum wages goes on, Conde Nast has just killed its intern program.

In the end, the interns who sued Conde Nast have ensured one thing: Those who come after them will get neither money nor experience.

Then again, if the purpose of an internship is for young people to get hard-won experience in the real world, this was a resounding success. They got a real-world lesson in economics of a kind they apparently didn’t pick up in Economics 101.

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