Internships Don't Need to Pay, as Long as You're Rich

Unpaid internships are controversial. "Workplace experience, invaluable connections, blah blah," say the employers. "You fired your lowest-wage workers and now you have us doing their menial jobs which have nothing to do with 'education,'" say the actual interns. All sides should be able to agree on this: unpaid internships—essentially part time jobs that pay nothing—are an incredible hardship for students without money, thereby tilting the playing field wildly in favor of students with money (as if they needed any more help).

Who better to argue the interns' position than an old rich guy?

Steve Cohen is a middle-aged former media executive who made a career change recently and went to law school. A typical representative of today's highly indebted, hopelessness-wracked young cadre of interns, in other words (SarcMark™). Cohen takes to the friendly op-ed pages of the WSJ to express his disgust for a recent lawsuit in which Charlie Rose was forced to, you know, pay his former interns (minimum wage), after a court found that he had used them, in essence, as low-level employees with no educational benefit.

Won't someone speak up for the companies here, cries former corporate executive Steve Cohen? Why, he liked his shitty internship just fine.

My boss, a junior attorney, didn't give me the photocopying assignments because he wanted me to figure out how to improve the work flow. He wanted the documents copied. My son's [an intern at a national magazine] boss didn't ask for his creative input. And when I was a business executive who brought on interns, I can't recall giving any of them a truly substantive-"educational"-project. However bright our interns might have been, they didn't have sufficient understanding of the business to really add value. My colleagues and I didn't have the time to hold their hands until they gained it.

But that is not the purpose of an internship. The most valuable purpose is exposure. Interns get to see the real work that real people do, and to see how disparate pieces come together to make an organization function.

Cohen here is making his opponents' point rather well: interns are not being educated at their internships, as they are in classrooms. They are doing shit work. Calling this shit work "exposure" does not change the fact that it is work, and that, here in America, people are paid for work. PEOPLE ARE PAID FOR WORK, YOU ULTRA-CAPITALISTS, THIS IS HOW YOU JUSTIFY YOUR OWN ABSURD SALARIES, DON'T FORGET, WHEN YOU ARE NOT ENGAGED IN ARGUMENTS AGAINST PAYING POOR YOUNG PEOPLE THE MINIMUM WAGE.

Steve Cohen, financially comfortable corporate executive-turned-law intern, concludes with this: "Changing internships from the exposure-audition model to a minimum-wage model may serve labor activists, but it won't serve ambitious college students or the companies seeking them." Hmm. No. No, Steve. No. You see, paying interns will serve them because then they will have money with which to pay their bills and perhaps some of their massive student loan debt. They really should have covered this in Econ 101. Jesus, schools these days.

I'm afraid this work is just an illogical mess, Steve. I'm gonna need you to rework this and have it on my desk first thing in the A.M. But first, go get your fucking shinebox. You intern.

[WSJ. Photo: Brendon Connelly/ Flickr]