In this week’s Spectator, Brendan O’Neill turns on unpaid interns who complain about their lot, arguing that they should instead be paying their employers for the opportunity. He attacks the argument that unpaid internships hit working class young people the hardest, when these placements will encourage self-drive, rather than self pity. O’Neill writes:
It speaks volumes about the parlous state of modern history teaching that these interns so liberally refer to themselves as ‘slaves’. Anyone who had been taught properly about the Roman era, or about black slavery in early America, or about the Holocaust, would know that there’s rather more to being a slave than being asked by a gruff boss to buy him a hazelnut latte.
But there’s a bigger problem with these sad-eyed agitators than self-pity. There’s the negative impact that making all internships paid will have on young people’s battered sense of voluntarism.
The demand that internships become paid positions is an extension of modern youth’s corrosive belief that everything they do should be instantly rewarded. This is a generation which thinks its every endeavour deserves a pat on the back. Its less well-off members were even paid for attending school back when the Educational Maintenance Allowance existed. No wonder they think they should be paid for interning. Agitating interns doll up their campaign in lefty lingo, but there’s something ironically Thatcherite in their grasping for instant cash. Terrifyingly, we’ve nurtured youngsters who measure the value of their every action by how speedily they’re rewarded for it. Like performing seals.
The whole point of an internship is that it isn’t a job — it’s an opportunity. So it makes perfect sense that there’s no pay packet at the end of the week. When I was 20 I spent three months working for Living Marxism magazine in exchange for a daily cup of coffee, which I had to make myself. But they worked harder on me than I did for them: they taught me to write, gave me grammar lessons I never got at my comp, helped me think about the world in a fresh way. Interning is always harder work for the people overseeing the interns than it is for the interns themselves.
You can read Brendan O’Neill’s full piece in the Spectator, available in print and online from tomorrow. Click here to subscribe.