The New York Times is hosting a debate about unpaid internships (side note: I really wish having been more successful at promoting the use of “unfair internships”). So far, five people have shared their opinion, four against and one in favor. There is Ross Perlin, well-known as the author of Intern Nation, who describes the recent evolution (degradation) of internships. There is Alex Footman, who is suing Fox Searchlight for his own experience as an unpaid intern and who’s making the argument that enforcing the law is he government’s job, not his (agreed). Then, an employment attorney makes the simple point, argued here too that internships are “a valuable idea, if we follow the law”. Raphael Pope-Sussman makes the case that unions should take up the fight to enforce the law and restrict unfair internships (in the UK, the Trade Union Congress does it).
This is all good and thoughtful, but let’s look at the dissenter’s argument. David Law, founder of Above the Law (I’m not joking) makes this interesting argument:
But unpaid internships are more a symptom than a cause of economic weakness. They are so popular right now because many employers, large and small, simply don’t have the ability to create new, full-time, paid positions.
Oh, that’s what it is! The employers really, really want to pay their junior staff, they just can’t afford it! Oh well then. They should pass on the idea to all companies that are going bankrupt: stop paying your staff if you can’t afford it, it’s no big deal. David Law then caps it off with this gem:
In the end, the status quo, while imperfect and inconsistent, may not be that bad.
What he apparently does not realize is that there is no status quo: the situation is getting worse, as Ross Perlin demonstrates. Who, 20 years ago, needed to go through some 5 internships before getting a paid position?
It’s good that the New York Times take up this issue and it’s even better to see that it is so hard to find a good defense of unfair internships.