The values of the wealthy elite became the rules
December 1, 2013 11:27 PM   Subscribe

"In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do. Entry-level jobs were replaced with unpaid internships. That same monopoly on opportunity reshaped lower-skill labor. Jobs that once offered on-site training now require college degrees. In response, universities ramp up tuition, knowing that students have little choice but to pay to compete. Instead of options, there is one path to professional success — one exorbitantly expensive path." -- At PolicyMic, Sarah Kendzior explains why you should never ever take an unpaid internship (but you will nonetheless because you have no choice).
posted by MartinWisse (116 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
Personally, I think Craig Newmark needs to be tried for 'crimes against humanity' for running a slave market. I mean seriously, didn't this get outlawed in 1860?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:31 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is fascinating. It's the dark side of the reputation economy.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:00 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the cost of living is low, you have less to lose by losing. It is terrible to be poor and precarious anywhere. But it is far worse in expensive cities powered on the exploitation of ambition, cities where so much rides on so little opportunity. It is more liberating to live in a place where the illusions have already been shattered. St. Louis is not a city of hypotheticals.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:02 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"You can do everything right and the door will not open unless you hold it open with money. "

"The first step to a collective solution is to realize this is a collective problem."

"A prestige economy promotes superiority through affiliation. Make your affiliation other people, not institutions set to screw you."


Those are but three of the very many insightful observations and revolutionary suggestions Ms. Kendzior makes here. This is a very wise young woman.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:07 AM on December 2, 2013 [19 favorites]


Sometimes I flirt with the idea of redirecting my practice at actions for back wages against for-profit companies that are illegally employing unpaid "interns." Because nearly every entity that does so, from the solo attorney all the way up to some very heavy-hitting corporations that should know better, is breaking the law. I wouldn't expect to make very much in fees doing something like that, but I really hate this practice and donating my own time to put the hurt on those who employ workers but don't pay them seems like a good thing.

And she's right - the internships don't help you. People don't value stuff that doesn't have a price tag attached. Even in the UN, work that you do for free is worth half what paid work is worth on the seniority scale. And I think that's optimistic compared to how some other employers treat internship experience. It doesn't matter how many hours you put in, or that you did exactly the same job as the guy sitting next to you who was getting paid. As an intern you're disposable, you get a cookie-cutter reference if you get one at all, and a month after you're gone no one remembers you were ever there.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:28 AM on December 2, 2013 [24 favorites]


The article touches on the issues, but I think it does a poor job of making sense of them. For the record, I think unpaid internships are both shitty and entirely exploitative.

Unpaid internships are a symptom, rather than a cause, of the problem. Furthermore the problem does not exist everywhere. It is acute in content and media businesses.

The causes are:

- the collapse in the value of individual pieces of content
- a glut of resource, both domestically and from abroad

There is, for example, no internship problem of people having to work for free in law or finance or accounting or engineering. Similarly, graduate salaries in those arenas have tended to keep pace with or rise above inflation.

There is a clear intern problem in areas with high levels of social prestige: content and fashion are two good examples. But there is also an intern problem in neighboring sectors with lower prestige - mass market clothing, business media. Prestige is not key - graduates are desperate for any experience.

In those problem industries, graduate salaries have typically not kept pace with inflation. In a media business I worked in for some years, graduate salaries actually decreased, even as inflation made the cost of living more expensive year on year. Only 10 years after I had first joined the company did new joiners enter on a higher nominal wage than I did. In that period, house prices had more than doubled.

The reason graduate salaries have not kept pace with inflation in the same industries where unpaid internships are rife is just supply and demand with a side helping of exploitative business practices and weak regulation:

- The economics of content supply favour quantity and speed-to-market over quality more than they used to. You can see this most clearly in news.
- There are more graduates. It is also harder to distinguish between their qualifications (this is certainly true in the UK, where more than two decades of grade inflation made the task harder).

This, in turn, means that the job market is more competitive, skills differentiation may attract less of a premium at the point of entry, experience is more important, the pay can be shitty even for the people that do get jobs and employers often prefer to have more people doing OK work than fewer doing better work. The article rails against the premise that "skill" is irrelevant but it is perceived to be less relevant.

Employers know they hold the cards. They can pay nothing, or little and people will still queue for jobs. Of course this is true outside the prestige economy. There is nothing glamorous about stacking a shelf at Walmart.

More widely, the problems of income distribution and wealth transfer are more systemic. And labor regulation - mainly in the US - is simply too weak to force all companies to improve at the same time. Until then, a company operating on thin or declining margins has no incentive to take the plunge, behave ethically, and pay better.

Unpaid internships are shitty and one can rail against a prestige economy with some justification. But the real damage is being done when the greater number of people who do get jobs are getting a rough deal.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


See also: doing things "for exposure"
See also: that bullshit Penny Arcade Job
See also: Mandatory open source commits

All and all a pretty nasty set of creeping trends.
posted by Artw at 1:34 AM on December 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


See also: Volunteer Tourism
posted by fairmettle at 3:11 AM on December 2, 2013


As an artist, it's drummed into my head: Don't underprice yourself.
FTFA: "We need to remove the shame from struggle and privation. The exploiter should feel ashamed, not the person exploited."
Figuring out how to price my work is a huge struggle that has probably held me back at times, but I never thought I'd see the day when being a proud-but-starving artist was at least as good a business model as, well, amost anything.

One thing the article doesn't address is legislating this problem. Back when I was in a position to hire people there were strict rules about hiring interns (who were always students earning credits.) This was true even in the entertainment industry, where people wanted to work for free just to get a foot in the door. We have a minimum wage, why can't some kind of pressure be put on businesses regarding interns? Even if some businesses would look for ways around it, the threat of financial penalties or even loss of business licenses or special tax status would be a huge deterrent.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:26 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


And she's right - the internships don't help you. People don't value stuff that doesn't have a price tag attached. Even in the UN, work that you do for free is worth half what paid work is worth on the seniority scale. And I think that's optimistic compared to how some other employers treat internship experience.

This is not always correct, but is largely correct for stuff where you were not actually doing specific skilled work. This is particularly true with fellowships, which are like internship's big sister. Any repeat internship at a place known to be competitive is a demonstration of value - someone else had to do the weeding and sorting and chose to keep you. On the down side, that generally requires a commitment of at least eight months.
posted by corb at 3:37 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unpaid internships are a symptom, rather than a cause, of the problem. Furthermore the problem does not exist everywhere. It is acute in content and media businesses.
The causes are:
- the collapse in the value of individual pieces of content
- a glut of resource, both domestically and from abroad


No, it's a contributing factor. Individual content is cheap because people will do it for cheap -- or even, for free. A typical Chinese person can do some kinds of labor well, but others not so well -- specifically things which don't pass cultural barriers well, like writing, which is precisely one of the things most produced by those "content and media businesses."

When companies pile up large amount of money to pay it out to executives who will hoard it, or just sit on it, that's money that could go into creating new jobs. A lot of this is companies deciding that the contributions of an individual executive is worth much more than that of employees. Money circulating through an economy doesn't just have a multiplier effect when governments do it.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't expect to make very much in fees doing something like that

Check fee-shifting statutes. They exist. California has a statute awarding fees to the prevailing party in any wage claim. Other states likely have them as well.
posted by valkyryn at 3:56 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the cost of living is low, you have less to lose by losing. It is terrible to be poor and precarious anywhere. But it is far worse in expensive cities powered on the exploitation of ambition, cities where so much rides on so little opportunity. It is more liberating to live in a place where the illusions have already been shattered. St. Louis is not a city of hypotheticals.
This idea of it being "liberating" to live in a bad place is kind of weird. I see where it's coming from, but it seems wrongheaded on a few levels, as if the author hasn't really thought about what failing in St. Louis implies. I'd say that the expensive cities, which appear to have "little opportunity" to this author, are places where opportunity exists in its greatest variety; the opportunities may not always be obvious or glamorous, but they're there. If you aren't a member of a pariah group (i.e. a poor black male), you're going to be able to try again. If necessary, you step down the ladder to a different city, where there are different opportunities, and try again. This is why an upward career trajectory often leads to progressively larger cities; there is more opportunity at higher levels there.

A failure in a large city can move to another large city and find an opportunity, or retreat to a medium-sized city and try again. Fail in that area, and you retreat to smaller regional city. Fail in that area, and you start to have problems; fail in a rural town of 4,000, and you're "Joe, the guy who lost everything on that idiotic real estate deal."
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:14 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


A failure in a large city can move to another large city and find an opportunity, or retreat to a medium-sized city and try again. Fail in that area, and you retreat to smaller regional city. Fail in that area, and you start to have problems ...
Isn't that basically the premise behind WKRP in Cincinnati?
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


The American Dream dies hard, because it was not a dream. We saw it work for previous generations. And now we witness its erosion.

See. . . I don't know about that. Earlier instantiations of "The American Dream" were predicated on two entire classes of citizens--women and racial minorities--being effectively barred from the labor market. When only one half of two thirds of the adult population is really able to work, yeah, they can charge a huge premium for their labor. The white middle class did very well for itself in the post-War period. But during that same period, households headed by women and minorities were doing really, really shitty.

And when you open the labor market up to the entire population, which is significantly what the civil rights movement and related laws were all about, that wage premium disappears. It turns out labor isn't nearly as valuable when you have to compete with the entire adult population.

The American Dream worked very well for white men--and by extension their families--until the 1960s or so. That's when you start to see things change, and the middle class start to come under increasing pressure. But most people tend to think that discriminating against women and racial minorities is Not Okay. So saying that we can get back to "the good old days" without acknowledging that the "good old days" were predicated on protectionist discrimination, both legal and customary, is not really a very compelling argument. What's going on isn't really caused by corporate greed. Corporations are no more greedy now than they were in the past. There's a reason nineteenth-century railroad executives were called "robber barons". No, what's going on is that the expansion of civil rights has diluted the value of any one person's labor, thus diminishing labor power in general.

Collective bargaining isn't necessarily a practical solution either. For instance, a relative of mine works in political campaigns. Campaign operatives almost uniformly work under labor conditions which violate every labor law on the book.* They're nominally "salaried," i.e., they don't get paid by the hour. Which is great for the campaigns, because these guys work upwards of 80 to 100 hours a week. Whether or not they qualify as "administrative" under the labor code is an interesting question, but either way, it's pretty obvious that they're getting shafted. And just about every campaign, someone says that they ought to organize. And it never happens. Why? Because campaigns only exist for nine months or so. Who are you going to organize? Even if you were to come to an agreement, it'd only be good until the end of the campaign, at which time you'd have to organize the next campaign from scratch. You'd get nowhere. And most of the people trying to get these kinds of jobs are not necessarily in this for the long term anyway, so they probably wouldn't get any actual benefit.

The same basically goes for a lot of other low-end labor markets. Fast food? Turnover is ridiculous. In excess of 100% in most stores. This is a problem, because you need six or so months to conduct an organizing campaign, and in that time you're likely to have lost half of the people you talked to at the beginning of the campaign. A new employee isn't necessarily going to want to get involved with something like that, especially if he figures (realistically) that the odds of him benefiting personally are low given that he's likely to be gone by the time a vote happens. Etc. Plug that into things like Wal-Mart and even some manufacturing jobs, and you've got a real problem. Simply put: labor doesn't even have enough power to organize.

Labor power has everything to do with the demand for labor v. the supply. In the tenth century, farm laborers in Europe were serfs, tied to the land and basically slaves to their feudal lords. In the fourteenth century, the serf system was rapidly on its way out. Why? Because in the thirteenth century, the Black Death killed a third to a half of the population of Europe, so there weren't enough serfs to work the land. This meant that they were too valuable a resource to be treated like slaves, and a ton of them made off to the towns to seek--and find!--their fortunes. Right now we've got more people to work than work for them to do.

Which shouldn't be terribly surprising. Live expediencies have gone way up, infant and child mortality has gone way down. People are alive today who would have died in infancy even a hundred years ago. I'm one of them. Again, we think this is a good thing--better for people to live than die, no?--but every change has consequences, and now we're seeing some of those consequences.

I'm not saying I have any solutions here. Nor am I saying that the status quo is okay. I'm saying that the problems we're dealing with are not easily fixable by waving a magic policy wand or pining for the good old days. I'm saying that the good old days weren't so good after all. The people living in them certainly wouldn't have thought so. I'm saying that fixing some of the problems of the good old days has caused some of the problems we're dealing with now. I'm saying that identifying "villains" in your policy narrative isn't helpful, because even assuming you could get them to do things differently--which you might not be able to do--it wouldn't necessarily (1) fix what you're trying to fix, or (2) do so without causing other, equally-serious problems.

And above all, I think I might be agreeing with a later part of the author's thesis:
We need to remove the shame from struggle and privation. The exploiter should feel ashamed, not the person exploited. If people do not feel comfortable discussing their financial hardship, or their misgivings about an economy in which they are unfairly advantaged, then no progress will be made. Erase the stigma. Redefine success and failure. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are not your job — especially because you probably do not have a job.
We need to remember that struggle and privation aren't unusual, uncommon, or unexpected. They're the norm. Ever wonder why most of the world's religious texts spend so much time talking about how much things suck? It's because things suck most of the time, there may not necessarily be anything to be done about it, and one of the most important things we can do for people who are experiencing the suckiness of things is not pretending that things could be better if [whatever] happened, whether that's them trying harder or someone else changing their tune. Just be willing to say Yes, things suck. No, it's not necessarily your fault.** Certainly not in a way that would change things for the better for any particular person in any particular time. Gradual change may (or may not!) be possible, but it's not going to help me, not here, not now. Maybe things will be better for my kids. Or maybe not.

But all I can do is try. And in trying, I can be careful to remember that every action has unintended consequences, so maybe I want to resist the temptation to think that if we just change things fast enough today that everything will be okay tomorrow. It probably won't be, and you're likely to screw things up in ways you couldn't possibly predict. Instead, learn contentment and tranquility, while doing your small part to effect what change you can. But my worth and dignity is not dependent upon achieving what the people around me recognize as success, nor even achieving a degree of material comfort. Wherever that comes from--and opinions differ--it's not economics or politics.

*Which is pretty ironic, when you think about it.

**Or then again maybe it is. Doesn't mean things we shouldn't empathize. Self-inflicted pain isn't any less painful for being self-inflicted. There's a real value to saying "Dude, you totally walked into that one. That's miserable. I'm here for you."
posted by valkyryn at 4:31 AM on December 2, 2013 [66 favorites]


I don't know what you're all complaining about. I can afford two kids, a car, my housewife, my dog, and I employ robot to clean my house. All I have to do is press buttons for two ours a week. And that's when I get busy down at the sprocket factory.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:33 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


At one university I know, they have dorms that look like luxury condos. They have a sushi bar and high-end restaurants. And they once paid an adjunct with “a line on the CV” — no money. They paid in prestige, and the adjunct took it.

Unless these are big clues that I'm missing out on, I'm surprised that she didn't say which school this was. She mentions earlier that shaming the exploiters by talking about these struggles is an important step, but I'm curious as to why she would miss the opportunity to name drop an egregious offender of free labor.
posted by dr_dank at 4:46 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I disagree with her framing of higher ed economics, but I couldn't agree more with her framing of internships. I have been told that to be a really serious candidate I should burnish my resume more by picking up a volunteer gig in my field*-- on top of my full time job, freelance work, and the volunteer shifts I already have. And yes, I will try to. Because what choice do I have? My parents do not understand this-- they think that with two fancy degrees, I should be able to apply and pick and choose from job offers, or easily go back and get a PhD while earning enough on the side, like they did.



*non-profits are not constrained by internship laws
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:49 AM on December 2, 2013


when I get busy down at the sprocket factory.

Und now iss zeh time vee dahnce?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:51 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


See. . . I don't know about that. Earlier instantiations of "The American Dream" were predicated on two entire classes of citizens--women and racial minorities--being effectively barred from the labor market. When only one half of two thirds of the adult population is really able to work, yeah, they can charge a huge premium for their labor. The white middle class did very well for itself in the post-War period. But during that same period, households headed by women and minorities were doing really, really shitty.

And when you open the labor market up to the entire population, which is significantly what the civil rights movement and related laws were all about, that wage premium disappears. It turns out labor isn't nearly as valuable when you have to compete with the entire adult population.
I see what you say here, but I thinkt his is a case of correlation not being causation: the idea that the influx of female and people of colour into the labour market to compete with white male workers driving wages down is largely a rightwing idea. It's correct in as far as e.g, female workers were (and are) hired for lower wages (the classic example being the Ford factories at Dagenham hiring female labour as "unskilled" while similar male jobs were classified as skilled) and of course capital loves to play out various groups of workers against each other, but the true decline of wages was organised from above, not a natural result of a bigger labour pool due to feminism and civil rights.

Real term wages in the US have remained largely stagnant since the seventies while profits have soared; this is not a coincidence.

(It is in fact only due to the effects of feminism and the large scale entry of women into work that the average American family could keep its head up for so long, as two incomes were increasingly needed to provide what one wage could do before. It's perhaps not coincidental that in countries like the Netherlands or Germany were wages did manage to keep up somewhat women also tend to work less; the necessity to overcome conservative gender roles simply to earn enough money to keep your home is less sharp.)
posted by MartinWisse at 4:58 AM on December 2, 2013 [39 favorites]


There was an interesting discussion on an audio engineering board yesterday from a guy who said that he had learned more from reading two books about audio engineering than from his entire degree, but that without the degree he couldn't get a job.

People always think the system's broken, but it isn't: it's working perfectly. America is a system designed to separate the rubes from their dough as efficiently as possible.
posted by sweet mister at 4:59 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


America is a system designed to separate the rubes from their dough as efficiently as possible.

Which is, of course, precisely what needs to be changed. Replaced with something better. Because we're ALL rubes at this point.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


The other possibility is that the adjuncts will be replaced by MOOCs. This will heighten inequalities and bolster the prestige economy. MOOCs have zero prestige, and are therefore being marketed to people with zero opportunities, to ensure they do not get any.

It's not just about prestige, it's also about access and connections. How likely are you to actually connect with a faculty member if you're sitting in a library cubicle somewhere catching up on the latest lecture? At least in the ginormous lecture halls you're in the same room as the professor and have the option of sitting up front, asking questions, and getting noticed.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:21 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back in the early 2000s, I took an unpaid internship working for a PR firm, and got to work, among other things, the Tony Awards. I did not end up in PR for a career, and I was working the days I wasn't interning, so I had money coming in. I didn't end up using any of the connections I made during my internship, but I will never forget riding in the elevator to the press room with Phylicia Rashad immediately after she had won for "A Raisin in the Sun." It is one of my most precious memories.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure the trend towards externships (internships where you don't get paid but get credit at the school you're in) is actually stopping people being exploited as much as corporations seem to think it is.

In all the cases I know of students have to pay for the credits at the same rate as if they were taking a class meaning effectively they're paying their school to work for free. Both the school and the employer benefit and sure the student gets some credit but unless you put a really high premium on not taking a class, which usually would be much less time intensive, the student ends up paying for the experience twice.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:41 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


During my college days I had to do a two-week training course for a part time internal IT technician job. If I got a score on their final test higher than 80% I would get the job and get paid for my training time. If not I would be unpaid. I spoke to the college's union rep and discovered the charming fact that Canadian educational institutions had an exemption from conforming with labour laws when employing students. I quit as soon as I figured out how they planned to steal several hundred dollars of unpaid labour from 8 out of the 10 people who took their course.

If an employer treats you like that at the start it isn't ever going to get any better.
posted by srboisvert at 5:45 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


In all the cases I know of students have to pay for the credits at the same rate as if they were taking a class meaning effectively they're paying their school to work for free.

My cousin is doing this right now for a local startup that has 'aligned' itself with his college. He's enjoying the work and the startup is set to really take off soon, but it doesn't sound like he's holding his breath for a job there after graduation.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:50 AM on December 2, 2013


So, anyone whose job you can't off-shore, automate, or redefine as a consultant, you simply make work for free?
Which will be the first company to require employees pay the company for working?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:53 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


And she's right - the internships don't help you. People don't value stuff that doesn't have a price tag attached.

I think this is often true. I've never been an intern, but I've supervised a few and many of the people I work with have interns working in their offices. In most of the ones I've seen closely enough to have an opinion, it didn't seem particularly valuable for either the intern or the office. The intern basically gets a line on their CV, and the office gets some aspects of a not-totally-critical project done, with varying degrees of competence.

In the ideal world, I think it's meant to be an exchange of labor for prestige, but in the internships I see there isn't any prestige being gained. No one has ever called me up to say "I have this amazing intern in my office, you need to hire them." Never, not once. Unless that's happening, all the intern is getting is that line on the CV. For what it's worth, I did do that with the one really good intern I had, and it worked -- she got a really good job at the place she wanted to be. So I know it can happen and that it works, which makes it all the more obvious when it mostly isn't being done.

This idea of it being "liberating" to live in a bad place is kind of weird. I see where it's coming from, but it seems wrongheaded on a few levels, as if the author hasn't really thought about what failing in St. Louis implies.

I read that as talking about people like herself -- "knowledge workers," maybe, or whatever Richard Florida called the creative and educated class? The kinds of people with degrees and cultural capital, who are facing radically reduced opportunities now than they would have had in 1970. For those people, a cheaper city gives you a much lower cost of living and ability to experiment and fail (with the big safety net that being educated and culturally elite gives you), in exchange for not having immediate, in-person access to the networks and resources of a city like NYC or San Francisco. (Arguably the internet makes it easier to live in a peripheral place and still have a certain level of access to those elite networks, but it's still a trade-off.)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:53 AM on December 2, 2013


It used to be that the formula we were sold on was, "if you work hard and do well, you will get promoted." Then it became, "If you work hard and do well, we won't fire you." Now it's, "If you work hard and do well, eventually someone might decide to pay you money for it."

t it is far worse in expensive cities powered on the exploitation of ambition, cities where so much rides on so little opportunity.

I disagree with this. That might be true in a much better economy, but in a poor economy, the only place that seems to have get paid are the expensive cities that are absolutely flooded with money that people are willing to spend in exchange for goods and services.

The fantasy of St. Louis is that you can work at a coffee shop 20 hours a week that allows you to pay your rent while getting your small business or creative project off the ground, but even that kind of low level steady work is hard to come by.
posted by deanc at 6:02 AM on December 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


There are two problems.

1) The employers are scum taking advantage of free work. But then again, this has been true for the history of labor. Why are we surprised by this?

2) There are those who think that if we play along with the employers, maybe we can become one of them. There was a time we call them "scabs" and treated them as such, and that was a time when labor had real power.

Interns and comp workers are basically scabs in better clothing. By working for free, they devalue everybody's labor. And if you don't want that, you need to treat those who are willing to work for free as just as against your way of life as those who want to employ you for free.
posted by eriko at 6:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


Real term wages in the US have remained largely stagnant since the seventies while profits have soared; this is not a coincidence.

I completely agree. Capital has always tried to maximize profits while minimizing labor expenses. That didn't change in the 1970s. What changed was that it became a lot easier to minimize labor expenses. You've denied my explanation for events but you haven't actually provided a different one, so I'm not sure where you're going with that.
posted by valkyryn at 6:09 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


the only place that seems to have get paid are the expensive cities that are absolutely flooded with money that people are willing to spend in exchange for goods and services.

There may be something to that. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I think cities might be the one place where there might actually be a labor shortage, or at least more relative demand for labor even if there's still a surplus. Sure, there are fewer workers in small towns and rural areas, but there's not much for them to do either. In cities, there are a ton more workers, but there is also a ton of stuff that can't really be done anywhere else.

This has been true for all of human history. You want a job? Go to the city.
posted by valkyryn at 6:12 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


sonic meat machine: "If necessary, you step down the ladder to a different city, where there are different opportunities, and try again. This is why an upward career trajectory often leads to progressively larger cities; there is more opportunity at higher levels there.

A failure in a large city can move to another large city and find an opportunity, or retreat to a medium-sized city and try again. Fail in that area, and you retreat to smaller regional city. Fail in that area, and you start to have problems; fail in a rural town of 4,000, and you're "Joe, the guy who lost everything on that idiotic real estate deal."
"

Um ... or you pick up and move to Chicago or New York? It's not like you're only allowed to move to smaller and smaller places. Obviously it varies by industry, but I know any number of lawyers who couldn't get jobs in first-tier markets, who went to second-tier markets where instead of spending four years as a document monkey they were given responsibility right off the bat and got more complete training as a result, and now are moving back to first-tier markets (as my cohort moves into in-house corporate jobs with real responsibility or into partnership positions) with substantially more experience than their burned-out white-shoe counterparts. Or, hey, a tiny-town lawyer from a town of 4,000 who just got appointed to the bench. Or maybe they don't move back somewhere bigger, because they have robust and interesting practices that let them take time out for T-ball games in their smaller cities.

People do talk about small cities as a kind of death for college-educated professionals, and while you're in the first phase of your career it can be hard to move back from a second-tier city to a first-tier city -- it costs too much, and companies may not want to take you. But as you move into the second phase of your career and companies start to be more interested in your professional achievements and less interested in your college degree, second-tier experience turns out to open up a lot of opportunities in first-tier markets ... if you're willing to go pay that much for housing and have that long a commute! And failing costs a lot less ... you can keep paying your mortgage a lot longer on unemployment in a city like St. Louis, and there's a lot less competition for the jobs that do open up. Plus if you live in St. Louis and you're applying to jobs in Chicago or New York, you just say, "St. Louis is great but I'm excited to be moving to New York. I mean, New York!" and everyone thinks this is a totally reasonable thing to say even though on the inside you're like "GRAR TINY EXPENSIVE APARTMENTS."

Anyway this lady has a lot of good points.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:17 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not like you're only allowed to move to smaller and smaller places.

If you fail repeatedly, that's the path I meant. Of course you can move up to bigger/better cities, if you're successful locally. Don't underestimate how hard it is, though. At some level, experience in BFE doesn't matter to city recruiters and hiring managers; and your lower BFE salary means even the logistics of moving suck. In my opinion, failing in worse places has worse consequences in the long run.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:23 AM on December 2, 2013


This idea of it being "liberating" to live in a bad place is kind of weird

I think it's pretty clear from Kendzior's piece "The view from flyover country," which she's referencing in that quote, that she doesn't think St. Louis is a bad place. Sounds like she thinks it's a good place, especially relative to New York.
posted by escabeche at 6:45 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose. It just seems awkward to call a place "good" and simultaneously imply that it's good because nobody has hope, anyway!

I guess I'm just prejudiced due to my origins in a hellish postindustrial village in the middle of nothing, bereft of any reason for its continued existence, and my memories of the shattered, hopeless denizens thereof. I'll end the derail here.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:53 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kendzior is right about the problems with unpaid internships and the fact that in addition to giving you no money, they give you no opportunities other than more unpaid internships. However, she's off the mark when it comes to where money goes in higher education.

Tuition increases at Big State University are outpacing inflation not because more jobs require college degrees, but because government subsidies for higher education have been cut back repeatedly to fund tax cuts for the people who benefited from those subsidies decades ago. "Elite colleges" like Harvard aren't going around building luxury dorms with sushi bars in them instead of paying their adjuncts, and they're not giving most of their financial aid to people who already have piles of money.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:53 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, anyone whose job you can't off-shore, automate, or redefine as a consultant, you simply make work for free?
Which will be the first company to require employees pay the company for working?


They're working on that.
posted by Garm at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2013


but because government subsidies for higher education have been cut back repeatedly to fund tax cuts for the people who benefited from those subsidies decades ago.

Eh. . . not so much. Most of those subsidies were not in the form of direct education subsidies but in the form of Pentagon R&D spending, which fell by 75-80% between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. Adjusted for inflation, the Pentagon was throwing something like $200+ billion a year at universities in the 1950s to 1970s. Direct education spending was never that high, and non-defense R&D funding hasn't grown nearly fast enough to replace the lost defense funding. True, a lot of state-level subsidies have fallen, but most of that money is going to things like government employee pensions, Medicaid, and K-12 education. And hey, you know when tuition prices really started to skyrocket? The mid-1980s, right around the time the Pentagon stopped spending all that money.

posted by valkyryn at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, I have two thoughts.

The first is that, according to the History of Rome Podcast, the city of Rome functioned strongly on a patronage relationship from the highest patricians to the lowest plebs. Every day, according to Mike Duncan, people would get up and call on their patrons to get enough money so that they could turn around and dole it out to their clients, and also pay the bills.

It was all about relationships. Did anything actually get done? I think most of the actual work was done by slaves, and the economy was controlled largely by the 1%. Everyone in the middle churned the stew, and I'm sure they were constantly scheming to live out "the roman dream" but in the end the economy stagnated; and they only had 56.8 million people in the entire empire in 25 BCE.


My second thought is that the relational system is not a meritocracy. I hate the way meritocracies are talked about, as if only those who have "merit" "deserve" to do well. Right now it stands in opposition to the "entitlement" system (another phrase I hate). But personally, I much prefer a meritocracy over a plutocracy.

and here's the rub: I think that staffing your company based on relationships instead of skills is an inferior method. There's a lot of room out there for someone who staffs based on merit to be very successful. I think that most start-ups work in this space: I'd laugh at someone who's start-up business plan was to hire only people that their rich uncle owed a favor.

But where it rubs me raw is that those with the wealth and power, who control the largest organizations, have the ability to crush those start-ups and maintain their personal power.

I wonder how historians will look back at our time and classify our employment situation? The past two hundred years could probably be summed up in a single sentence, for all that we think things have changed.
posted by rebent at 7:08 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


And hey, you know when tuition prices really started to skyrocket? The mid-1980s, right around the time the Pentagon stopped spending all that money.

Yeah, my point was that tuition increases were due to less government money flowing toward colleges and universities and not "you must have a college degree to flip this burger."
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:09 AM on December 2, 2013


So the people calling me and basically begging to do unpaid internships- I should turn them away? I work for a state agency, in fisheries management.

They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?
posted by Patapsco Mike at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tuition increases at Big State University are outpacing inflation not because more jobs require college degrees, but because government subsidies for higher education have been cut back repeatedly to fund tax cuts for the people who benefited from those subsidies decades ago.

Also, out-of-state and out-of-country students who pay the full, unsubsidized tuition are way more lucrative than in-state students because they pay more than the state provides and the money often comes with no strings attached. That's a big part of why state schools are building spas and luxury apartments.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:18 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the people calling me and basically begging to do unpaid internships- I should turn them away? I work for a state agency, in fisheries management.

They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?


Thinking about it as individuals exploiting individuals is wrong; systems are in place that mean that being exploited is a requirement for many jobs. The fact that people want to be exploited isn't a surprise, when exploitation is the only option, then it seems pretty attractive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:26 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?

Yes. Either find some money to pay them, set up a genuine, bona fide internship with an academic institution, or don't do it.
posted by valkyryn at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


I can be careful to remember that every action has unintended consequences, so maybe I want to resist the temptation to think that if we just change things fast enough today that everything will be okay tomorrow. It probably won't be, and you're likely to screw things up in ways you couldn't possibly predict.
"Do you know who else selfishly tried to change the natural, God-given order of things for the better but wound up with unintended consequences? The French Revolution"
-- Joseph deMaistre ( in repeated posts to talk.politics.sugarcandy.mountain )
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't say that, but I'd agree.
posted by valkyryn at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2013


If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?

If they are looking for experience and not education, then not only is it exploitation, it's illegal. A legal internship is one that is 100% educational for the intern. The employer cannot profit on anything the intern does, and the intern cannot undertake any work that would otherwise be carried out by a paid employee for compensation.
posted by northernish at 7:29 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?

Exploitation (in the relevant sense) means to get something of economic value from someone without compensating them fairly for it. Do you think the work experience gained from doing the work is fair compensation? Does having the experience definitely translate into future income or is it a crap shoot?

Is it fair to compensate a person for actual work they've done with only a slight chance the check will actually clear later?

What do you think?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:33 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is actually happening, not just for middle class aspirational types with university degrees, but among the lower skill work. For example a lot of 'career colleges' are running a racket where they provide you with job focused skills (for example administrative training) and then match you into a 'practicum', where your student loan money goes to the college, and then you work for free for a business for a few months doing something that really takes a few weeks training to bring you up to speed (and if the secretarial courses offered at the school weren't rubbish, you should be ready for the work without that much training).

It's slightly frightening, that these three month long work stints are offered like it's a great way to get your foot in the door- doing what should be an entry level position. I'm even seeing classes offered at these places in things like call centre customer service, the bastion o low skill- bring only literacy work.
posted by Phalene at 7:34 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


So the people calling me and basically begging to do unpaid internships- I should turn them away? I work for a state agency, in fisheries management.

They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?


Yes, and depending on the nature of the "work," it may also be illegal.

A few years ago I worked in a university department that used interns to do the very worst sort of non-educational drudge work--hours and hours of tedious data entry that our employees (who largely spent their time surfing the internet) didn't want to do. We paid them, at first, but then in my last semester of working there my boss hit on the incredible idea of making the internship unpaid so that we could "hire" three interns instead of one. I felt really bad for the kids stuck doing the drudge work.

(I should have spoken up, in retrospect. I was afraid to do so.)

All of my white collar jobs required both experience and education--but in every case, neither was applicable to the actual job, where the skill set could easily be learned on the job and where, in fact, I used nothing I learned in either college or graduate school. Of course, they were the worst sort of desk jobs where you're entering data or pushing papers around in a seemingly arbitrary way but when you need health insurance, you do what you must to jump through hoops. Wonder if the ACA will change any of this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:35 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?

I volunteer for a nonprofit that operates under the umbrella of the National Parks Service. We have internships that are very competitive for life science graduates looking to get field experience. They get a stipend and a place to live.

Your state agency probably has pretty strict rules about internships. If you're seriously asking if you need to pay them or not, you should check your agency's regulations. If you really don't want to pay them, then call it a volunteer position and not an internship (assuming your agency allows for volunteers in the capacity in which you would use them).

I really hate this notion that the sole or most important way to determine whether or not someone is exploited is whether they're really okay with doing the work for free.
posted by rtha at 7:43 AM on December 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Unpaid labor bad, agreed. Seems to me I've seen a lot of commentary in the blue from people who think it's perfectly okay not to pay for copyrighted work so long as it's downloaded from the internet. A matter of which man one is sticking it to, I suppose. And one's values....

And hey, you know when tuition prices really started to skyrocket? The mid-1980s, right around the time the Pentagon stopped spending all that money.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Anyway, more like the nineties and after than the eighties. Clinton era, that is to say. There was also a rise in the student loan program and increased encouragement for every butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to go to college.

On the plus side, we seem to be approaching an inflection point. Of necessity, colleges are now looking at reducing tuition. Supply and demand again. They can sucker moneyed foreign students; locals, not so much. Sticker price is less and less the real price.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:49 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Direct education spending was never that high...

"In 1960, state support accounted for 78 percent of the U-M [University of Michigan] Ann Arbor General Fund. It has dropped to 16 percent of the General Fund budget."

"With the large cuts expected, the state [California] may spend about one third as much as it did 50 years ago."

The lack of federal R&D spending is a factor, but the continued whittling away of direct state funding continues to be a major driver of rising costs at public universities.
posted by Etrigan at 8:01 AM on December 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


So, while I don't work in the entertainment or financial sectors and have never lived in a city of over a million, I have worked for two different for-profit tech companies, a university library system, and an environmental non-profit which barely scraped by financially -- and none of these organizations ever made an intern work for nothing.

Not sure what makes my experience the supposed outlier here - all of the places I have worked, with the possible exception of the non-profit which was niche regional, were successful and in their own spheres, relatively prestigious.
posted by aught at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


In re: this Personally, I think Craig Newmark needs to be tried for 'crimes against humanity' for running a slave market. I mean seriously, didn't this get outlawed in 1860?

Can you explain this? I mean is it about craigslist?
posted by Fuka at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2013


Can you explain this? I mean is it about craigslist?

I think the person is talking about the plethora of unregulated "internship" want ads that blossom there.

That being said, my prestigious university also routinely ran want ads for internships that offered things like paying people in up to a hundred dollar's worth of their organic pet food.
posted by Phalene at 8:08 AM on December 2, 2013


SpaceWarp13 : In all the cases I know of students have to pay for the credits at the same rate as if they were taking a class meaning effectively they're paying their school to work for free.

At the college where I work, we have started paying students during their required externships because it was causing students to drop out.

This seems weird to me -- the student pays us and then we pay them right back?! -- but it gets them into the work situations where they get genuinely valuable experience that even our best instructors can't provide. For our students, this is legitimately a gain.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:10 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are calling me, wanting experience in the field. If I let them come work with my paid staff, am I exploiting them?

Because you work for a government agency as opposed to a for-profit corporation, this is technically legal. However, I think it is inappropriate if they are doing actual "work" that someone would otherwise be paid for, especially if you are not making a special point to get them a job after the internship is over or working directly with a university.
posted by deanc at 8:17 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's a weird split where it's legal to do unpaid work for nonprofits but not for-profits, even if the people in charge of those nonprofits make, essentially, huge profits.
posted by corb at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2013


There is, for example, no internship problem of people having to work for free in law or finance or accounting or engineering.

There is definitely one in law. Internships with the government and non-profits are almost never paid. Some schools offer stipend programs for students that take such internships, but guess where the money for that program comes from, since law schools rarely have substantial endowments? Tuition. It's just a back-door way for students to take out more loans to cover the cost of living during the summer.

Some law firms have been caught-out offering unpaid internships, and many of the rest offer only token wages. Only a small percentage of law students will get a summer job that pays something close to what they would make as a full-time attorney at the same institution. The biggest scam of all, however, are law school clinical programs, which the students pay several thousand dollars for (plus interest, if it's loan-financed) in exchange for questionable "real-world experience".
posted by jedicus at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Seems to me I've seen a lot of commentary in the blue from people who think it's perfectly okay not to pay for copyrighted work so long as it's downloaded from the internet. A matter of which man one is sticking it to, I suppose. And one's values...

You wouldn't download an intern!
posted by elizardbits at 8:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [20 favorites]


but the true decline of wages was organised from above, not a natural result of a bigger labour pool due to feminism and civil rights. Real term wages in the US have remained largely stagnant since the seventies while profits have soared; this is not a coincidence.

No, it's not a coincidence; it happened because the balance of power shifted between capital and labor, and capital was able to get more of the profits pie for itself and leave less for labor. The reason the balance of power shifted is because the labor market slackened.

When the labor market has been tight, historically, you see a lot of power shift to labor. When the labor market is slack, power shifts to capital.

You can't effectively bargain for higher wages or better working conditions or pretty much anything, when there are other workers waiting outside the factory gates, happy to take your job for exactly what you're making today (or less!).

However, I am personally unconvinced that adding women and minorities into the workforce had nearly as much of an effect on the US labor market as dropping trade barriers and opening ourselves up to cheap imports did. But it certainly seems possible that it had an effect. Few disasters have one singular cause, anyway.

The big bastions of labor support -- manufacturing and assembly, steelmaking, mining, etc. -- were almost all broken by flooding the market with cheap imports. Those workers then became unemployed and contributed to the labor surplus (and also a horrific social cost which cheerful free-trade economists rarely discuss). That labor surplus effectively prevents organization of remaining industries.

Whether this happened because those in power honestly believed in the power of free trade uber alles, or because they were conducting a scorched-earth campaign against organized labor, is something that I suspect we will never have an indisputable answer to.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 AM on December 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Seems to me I've seen a lot of commentary in the blue from people who think it's perfectly okay not to pay for copyrighted work so long as it's downloaded from the internet.

I find that I'm a lot happier after I stopped insisting on ideological consistency, particularly across things that are only barely related.
posted by Etrigan at 8:34 AM on December 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Which will be the first company to require employees pay the company for working?

They're working on that.


It was perfected in the 1800s.
posted by The Michael The at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2013


I'm just listening to this series of interviews about minimum income, and the history of this discussion in Canada. With something like this in place, people could pick and choose, and might be able to use their internship to their and society's benefit. Switzerland Considers a Mandatory Basic Minimum Income for Everyone.
posted by sneebler at 8:55 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which will be the first company to require employees pay the company for working?

They're working on that.

It was perfected in the 1800s.


See also sharecropping.
posted by Etrigan at 8:59 AM on December 2, 2013


Actually, this is common now - strippers and cab drivers are the first two who come to mind, but there are in fact others.
posted by corb at 9:02 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know how people can sleep at night when they make people work for free for "the experience." Would you really want to work for a company that did this? My company has always paid for internships. And work from graphic artists and other visual design companies when we needed images for proposals. Because we're not a bunch of douchebags.
posted by Kokopuff at 9:02 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've noticed an interesting trend in my own industry of visual effects / design whereby the top notch interns are eventually hired, but they are locked in at EXTREMELY low wages. Basically the rockstar interns - the ones who burn the candle at both ends for 14 hours a day - are hired on as staff...where they continue to work 14 hours a day on a salaried basis at 1/3 the average rate.

In fact at the shop where I am currently contracted it seems as though 60-80 percent of the staff responsible for daily operations and content were previously interns! They are all locked in at really really low rates and then there are a handful of senior talented people hired at high rates (myself included) but we are not necessarily tapped for our knowledge. It is a very bizarre and confusing situation.

Since most folks in mid-level supervisory positions have less experience relatively speaking(since they have only worked at this one company) there is a tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency created.

My only thought is that somehow the costs saved by locking less experienced interns in as staff at low rates are greater than the cost of efficiency drag and lowered work quality. I can tell you that on one episodic TV show on the air right now the VFX has been specifically called out again and again by critics as being awful - and it is DIRECTLY the result of having low paid people who were interns not 1.5 years ago calling the shots. It is insane.

Another tactic used by VFX companies, but mostly by small design shops I contract at is to hire young foreign people, usually from Europe, who are insanely talented, but will work for peanuts because they are "yay excite America!" This happens a lot in LA, not so sure about NYC...but go to any design or VFX house and you will find European guys who have more skill than most Americans yet they are being paid extremely low wages. None of them seem to be bothered.

In my mind when I meet someone who "started as an intern" I immediately know they are making far less than they could be making, and in most cases the facts bear out this assumption.

So in my industry, even if the interns GET the job, they do so at severe disadvantage with little or no bargaining power and simply move categories from "totally exploited" to "really taken advantage of."
posted by jnnla at 9:09 AM on December 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


Since I can't let this go...I see internships as a particularly insidious way for companies to screen for the intersection of "talented" and "pushover" and then to select for those people, which in turn drives wages down across the board. There, I'm done.
posted by jnnla at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


Remember how that group picketed Craigslist to oppose its sex listings? Is anyone working on doing that, only for pressuring Craigslist to forbid "no pay but exposure" posts?

After all, one reason it is hard to find a media job is that Craigslist contributed to the collapse of classified newspaper advertising departments. It would be a classy gesture to crack down a bit more on that stuff.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:51 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know how people can sleep at night when they make people work for free for "the experience." Would you really want to work for a company that did this? My company has always paid for internships. And work from graphic artists and other visual design companies when we needed images for proposals. Because we're not a bunch of douchebags.

That's very much to your collective credit. But you have to compete with the douchebags who do engage in those practices. Even if potential clients might know and care about that hugely important difference and thus be liable to direct their business this way or that based on that information, any customers of your final product will almost certainly neither know nor care. And in the contemporary labor market, who has the luxury of turning down a job offer based on such a consideration? Thus the system reproduces itself, through the coercion of economic necessity and asymmetry of information.
posted by clockzero at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can tell you that on one episodic TV show on the air right now the VFX has been specifically called out again and again by critics as being awful - and it is DIRECTLY the result of having low paid people who were interns not 1.5 years ago calling the shots. It is insane.

Did the ad time sell? Because "good" is not the point.
posted by bongo_x at 10:01 AM on December 2, 2013


Seems to me I've seen a lot of commentary in the blue from people who think it's perfectly okay not to pay for copyrighted work so long as it's downloaded from the internet.

Can you bring up specific examples of the same user holding these two positions you find contrary? If not, maybe don't bring it up. No, scratch that, definitely don't bring it up.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2013


Did you hear about the artist who worked for free? It seems she died of exposure.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:18 AM on December 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


I am up against this wall right now, just in a different profession. Please excuse in advance my lengthy gnashing and wailing.

In my field (dietetics) unpaid internships have seemingly always been part of the landscape. It has been an accepted thing for a very long time, never questioned. The nature of a dietetic internship may be different from some of the business or media internships I'm hearing about in critical writings like this, however, in that you really are still a student being taught your profession -- though toward the end of the year-long internship, interns are openly used for free labour for a few weeks or months, to cover maternity leaves and vacations of RDs. Again, this is an open and accepted practice with a long history.

The problem is not just the fact that it is an unpaid year of working/learning (you could say the same for school), but that in my province (Ontario) there is no financial aid available, and no continuation of interest-free status on your existing student loans from undergrad. It is basically unspoken but widely understood that ONLY people who are set up in such a way to be able to pay their bills while not working for a year can do an internship. So this means you must have a spouse or family to support you, or you are somehow independently wealthy or managed to save a year's worth of living expenses during undergrad -- something I think even the best and brightest college student would find a little difficult. Not saying it is totally impossible, but it definitely filters out a lot of deserving people.

The result is, dietetics has long been a career dominated by one specific demographic: mostly white, thin, able-bodied, upper-class, cis women. This is a problem not because there is anything wrong with white, thin, able-bodied, upper-class, cis women, but because the lack of diversity in the profession means that the profession is less able to respond to the needs and experiences of a vastly diverse clientele. There can be a considerable empathy gap, from what I've seen, between many RDs and their clients, especially those who struggle with food and financial insecurity, or who experience stigma based on ability, race, or weight, because the experiences between practitioner and client can be so different that it impedes communication and trust. Lack of diversity makes the profession, as a whole, less helpful and less strong.

It also means that people like me, who have the right education and the right experience, but who simply do not have the finances to not work for a whole year, are shut out of doing what they've spent years, and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, training to do.

All for the lack of a loan, the lack of a well-off spouse or family, or the lack of one year's basic salary. I know this may be the same for other health care professions, and it has long just been accepted as a fact of life, but I think it is wrong. I can't help but see it as a way of keeping the class/status hierarchy, the one nobody wants to talk openly about, intact.
posted by Ouisch at 10:22 AM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not a fan of unpaid internships, but an apprenticeship model where the apprentice works for the master in exchange for nothing more than room and board, is hundreds of years old.
posted by shivohum at 10:28 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not a fan of unpaid internships, but an apprenticeship model where the apprentice works for the master in exchange for nothing more than room and board, is hundreds of years old.

I think if the modern internships offered those, especially internships in expensive cities where those benefits would be valued at north of 1000 per month, there would be fewer problems. But internships rarely offer housing or stipends to cover the cost of living, and the skills gained are often far less useful. (Free leftover pastries in the break room does not cover it.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:45 AM on December 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


I hate linking to Vice, but this recent article by Charles Davis is good:

The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media

Neoliberalism: you're soaking in it.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:47 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is, for example, no internship problem of people having to work for free in law or finance or accounting or engineering.

Technical fields require specialized / scientific knowledge and actual training; workers produce PHYSICAL OBJECTS that people USE. There is a hierarchy (engineers are paid more than technicians who are paid more than operators) but things are still physically manufactured. Compare to business or marketing, where nothing is physically produced. Just "ideas" being tossed around, lubricated social savvy and "who you know."

If you don't have a specific skill aside from general intelligence and manners, of course you're f*cked unless you know somebody. They need guardians at the gates of easy money after all. If everyone had access then they'd realize the emperor has no clothes and no one's actually physically doing something, except for designers / creators and manual laborers.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


an apprenticeship model where the apprentice works for the master in exchange for nothing more than room and board, is hundreds of years old.

Room and board constitute compensation, and the master/apprentice model also came with the expectation that the master would train the apprentice such that he could qualify for journeyman, i.e., set himself up in business, at the end of a fixed period of time. Unpaid interns are left to fend entirely for themselves.

We're talking about a setup where the employer pays nothing of tangible value. Even indentured servants and outright slaves could expect room and board.
posted by valkyryn at 11:30 AM on December 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm not a fan of unpaid internships, but an apprenticeship model where the apprentice works for the master in exchange for nothing more than room and board, is hundreds of years old.

If unpaid internships covered all food, rent including utilities, and local transportation expenses, there wouldn't be such a major issue. Especially if these internships actually lead to a version of journeyman status (ie, a job that paid in actual money).
posted by jeather at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


"*non-profits are not constrained by internship laws"

Huh. I thought we were held to the same standards. I'm recruiting for interns right now, and have it planned out basically like a class — I'll teach 'em to do a project, they'll do a project with my supervision, and then I'll give them feedback. I feel bad about not paying — all of my internships were paid — but that's not in the budget. Still, I want the interns to come out of this with some real skills, not just the ability to do scutwork. (Well, some scutwork, since those are skills I needed on the job that I've had to fake/learn and could help students get hired elsewhere, like putting together a press list.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2013


I feel bad about not paying — all of my internships were paid — but that's not in the budget.

When I feel bad about not being able to eat pizza because the cost of pizza isn't in my budget, I simply don't eat pizza. I am sorry that your budget doesn't have any room to hire a few temporary workers at minimum wage, but that just means that you don't get to hire temporary workers until you can afford it.
posted by deanc at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Since I can't let this go...I see internships as a particularly insidious way for companies to screen for the intersection of "talented" and "pushover" and then to select for those people, which in turn drives wages down across the board.

I think this is exactly right.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I much prefer a meritocracy over a plutocracy.

the distinction i think is the concept of rents, explained well here by noah smith: "When companies or governments simply suck value out of the rest of the economy instead of creating it, economists call it 'rent', which basically means redistribution."

and of course that's done by 'capturing' the legal and regulatory system with the attendant aura of officialdom and the implicit backing of force, if not moral authority, the game being that if you're unable to take the commanding heights then you're not worthy, nevermind the heights to command are a) getting higher (and more complex), but also simultaneously may not be around much longer, and b) not the kind of world any of us -- who profess sanity -- really want to live in or take part of, especially with the realization that gov't can be user friendly, corporations don't have to be evil, work can be remunerative as well as fulfilling, finance can direct your savings to worthwhile endeavors, guys don't have to be such dicks or women so 'indirectly aggressive' and the world in general can suck less, just as decent health care and education are accessible to everyone, not to mention for that matter a safe, clean environment, nice parks and ample leisure time :P

is that asking too much? anyway, i mentioned this in the thread on secular stagnation but i think one way forward to an empathic civilization could be citizen shares (like the founding fathers wanted! the economist is on board ;)

oh and also btw speaking of german-style apprenticeships: "Labor experts and government officials say that traditional apprenticeship programs, popular in Europe, could help sustain burgeoning growth in American factories."
posted by kliuless at 12:34 PM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Huh. I thought we were held to the same standards. I'm recruiting for interns right now, and have it planned out basically like a class —

That is good of you but not the standard. I think it's because nonprofits rely so heavily on charity work, but if you work at a nonprofit, you could essentially have your interns dancing for your pleasure for free and would be, as far as I understand, breaking no labor laws.
posted by corb at 12:36 PM on December 2, 2013


>"*non-profits are not constrained by internship laws"

Huh. I thought we were held to the same standards.


Well. . . kind of. Thing is, it is generally legal to volunteer for a nonprofit, whereas it's not generally legal to volunteer for a for-profit. So having someone do unpaid work for a for-profit automatically triggers red flags which it's hard to make go away, but doing unpaid work for a nonprofit doesn't.

That does not mean that nonprofits are simply exempt from labor laws though. Nonprofits have volunteers, yes, but they also have paid employees, and they're no more allowed to substitute intern/volunteer labor for paid labor than for-profits are. Whether or not a nonprofit unpaid internship is okay follows basically the same analysis as a for-profit internship, when it comes right down to it. But because nonprofits actually use volunteer labor for a lot of what they do, something which would be categorically impermissible for a for-profit might be okay for a nonprofit depending on the facts of the situation. The more the work looks like something even a nonprofit would pay for, the more likely it is to be problematic.
posted by valkyryn at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Valkryn is probably correct, given subject matter knowledge, but I think it becomes really difficult when you have actual no-fooling volunteer staffers who work 20 hours a week or more for years. How do you separate that from exploitation? What are the rules for volunteers, and how do you differentiate that?
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on December 2, 2013


I would venture the hypothesis that the rise of unpaid internships is a symptom of the development of an informal class structure in America (and other Western countries that either never had a class structure, or in countries that tried to abolish it, but, well, you can't stamp out something that is to a degree hardwired into human behavoir; i.e. social hierarchy).

The myth that America has never had a class structure the way that places like England or other countries have had (or still have) is quite odd historically. To a greater degree, it is also something that was used as a means of class control more than as an actual elimination of the class system. To a greater degree, the idea of social mobility actually requires a class structure to exist, because it means that there is a hierarchy to climb to begin with. Maybe I understood the idea differently than intended, however I think that to some degree, many people are either blinkered by the false narrative, or do not want to accept that there are always class divisions in every society, no matter what we do to try and eliminate them.

Of course, this doesn't mean that it is hopeless. As put forth in the article, the "personal brand" culture and the whole false meritocracy elements of today's society are simply the games being played by the upper class to hold down people who are not in the same strata and below.

And, add to this the disarray and active attacks against those who try to organize those in the lower classes into an organized section of society make it that much harder to recognize that they system is rigged from the top down.

I know I came from a definitely middle-middle class family. Both my parents worked full time, though my mother was able to take several years off to care for my fathers elderly parents before returning to the workforce up to retirement (though early, at around 55 years old). I, however, spent several years after dropping out of college learning very quickly that the only real social mobility in the current system is pointed downwards. Even if I had completed college in either of my chosen fields, the opportunities for raising myself above where I started were being quickly closed as I approached them, and only through luck would I have been able to break out of where I was being funneled by the existing structures. Though admittedly incidental, I chose to drop out and freefall to the point of near homelessness (couch surfing and/or sleeping in my car) simply because it was easier than trying to force myself to conform to the ideas of some other class of either employer or other possible avenue to change my status. Only through luck have I managed to rise to the point of lower-middle class/upper-working class, even though the particular field and skillset I have should put me into the upper-middle class if the valuation of my skills and knowledge were fulfulled to their potential. And I know that I am not the only one. All around I see people who are highly skilled and highly trained, simply marking time at dead-end, low wage positions because there is no one willing to invest the capitol to create the markets in which these people could thrive.

So where are the capitalists? Where is all this money that should be invested in companies and jobs and real wages that have kept up with inflation? It's all been fiddled away by one collapse after another, while the upper class nitwits who created the mess have walked away whistling dixie. The first I can remember was the Savings and Loan fiasco during the Bush I years. Anyone else remember that one? My grandparents lost a huge chunk of their life savings to that fiasco. And that was just one in a series of massive financial fleecings that have occurred in my lifetime. After the S&L Crisis, we had Worldcom and Enron, followed very quickly by the dotcom bubble and bust, then the Iraq War which pretty much distracted everyone to the fact that another huge fraud was being crafted in the housing bubble. The number of real estate mortgage companies that popped up and then vanished in a puff of paper in 2007 should have told you that this was just another wave of unregulated (or deregulated) malfeasance designed to make huge amounts of money off the labor and aspirations of those without the startup capital to cash in on the scheme.

I am heavy on hyperbole, and hindsight allows for a great exaggeration of the actual collusion of all the bad actors involved, but to a greater degree, it seems that the fundamental ideology of capitalism is to set up an environment for those with capital to gain more capital by regulatory capture and control fraud through deregulation and crony political affiliations.

On a completely separate tact, I think the meaning behind the whole St Louis allows you to fail is that EVERYWHERE should allow you to fail, not that St Louis is bad or good because of this fact. It just happens to be that the environment there is good for people who don't have a lot to risk at least trying something, anything to create a living, instead of being beholden to some moron with more money than sense who just happens to own a business. The main failure of places like San Francisco and New York is not that it's harder to succeed, or that there are better or more talented people living there (which is utterly false, both statistically and because it's a lie people who live there love to tell themselves about being able to afford to live there), but because the social stigma of "failure" doesn't mean as much when you realize that failure just means you tried and you should have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and try again. The winner take all, "coffee is for closers" attitude is utterly ridiculous and should be beaten out of our collective heads (except for in the field of medicine, where instead of allowing for a single point of failure, a system of overlapping checks and safety protocols should make is to that failure does not have as many detrimental consequences) because all it does if create more divisions between us when what we need is to understand that no single individual is above a second chance (with the exception of social miscreants, in the fully technical definition of the word, as one who will not accept living in society by the laws and rules that all members must follow, lest we have anarchy, they bad kind, not the political kind).

And frankly, there are plenty of people living in New York, or LA, or San Francisco who repeatly get to try and fail, over and over and over again. They just have more money than you do, and will always have more money than you do, and will always get to fail, repeatedly. Oh, don't forget parts of Texas, too. Hell, one of the biggest business failures in Texas went on to become President.

There is also a huge majority of people living in those places that you never bother to think about. Those kids growing up in Harlem, or pretty much the entire population of Oakland, or Compton (well, not so much any more now that it's gentrifying).

I'll shut up now. About a million tangents have sprung up in my mind as I've been writing this, but much of it is being said more coherently by other peolple (see kliuless latest comment).
posted by daq at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


How do you separate that from exploitation? What are the rules for volunteers, and how do you differentiate that?

Most of those sorts of staffers aren't necessarily looking to get paid, ever. They've got other sources of income. My mom (who homeschooled us kids) has done a lot of volunteering since the kids left the house, sometimes dozens of hours a week, never looking for a dime. My dad makes enough for both of them, and she's got time on her hands. It's the kind of work that simply wouldn't get done if someone didn't do it for free, and it's a help to the community, so she's happy to do it. I know a lot of senior citizens who do similar things. They're living on pensions, retirement accounts, or even just Social Security, but they've got time on their hands and are happy to find something useful to do. I have a hard time calling that "exploitation."

If, on the other hand, you're setting up a standing temporary gig where you bring in a new 20 year old every six months, have them doing tedious clerical work, and require a certain number of hours per week, yeah, that's exploitative.
posted by valkyryn at 12:53 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"When I feel bad about not being able to eat pizza because the cost of pizza isn't in my budget, I simply don't eat pizza. I am sorry that your budget doesn't have any room to hire a few temporary workers at minimum wage, but that just means that you don't get to hire temporary workers until you can afford it."

I'm going to assume that your strong feelings on this overwhelmed your ability to parse the rest of my comment. In significant part because I assumed that the internship should be conducted under the same guidelines as a for-profit, I explicitly structured it to function more like a class. The last time I had an intern, we used it to basically learn about video production and campaign messaging. This time, it'll be more focused on creating a broader variety of digital media all supporting one of the public education campaigns we're working on. And yeah, if they're good and need a job this summer, we'll probably hire them and pay them actual (well, non-profit scale) money.

We don't need temporary workers at minimum wage. We do need people who are committed to our mission and interested in learning skills that will help them continue on with what they want to do. (And in terms of a longer view, part of the goal is to teach these skills to people who are broadly supportive of our mission so that they can use those skills to advance the same goals elsewhere. We want LGBT-supportive folks to know how to do things like mobilize members, do public education and win campaigns, even if they're doing it for someone else.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on December 2, 2013


How do you separate that from exploitation? What are the rules for volunteers, and how do you differentiate that?

Sorry, I was in a rush this morning and I did end on a simplified note! To my understanding, the volunteer loophole is how many non-profits offer internships that are structured more like volunteer roles. This is not true for all institutions, many of which have truly educational internships, but it allows programs to get the needed manpower that they need. Volunteers are how many museums have docents, expanded education programs, social media offerings, and an entire host of other roles, some of them quite skilled-- often retired professionals or trained professionals with extra time or with a research project. (This is obviously not true everywhere, but this is what I've either done or seen. There is a lot of paper-folding and data entry.) Sure, it would be great to hire people to serve those positions, but often they either aren't an institutional priority or the institution just can't afford it. Volunteers are how many school libraries are open at all, even though it would be better and more sustainable if professional librarians were hired. To be honest, I think it is often exploitative and it creates a very tough and elitist job market, but it's hard to fault a penniless institution for wanting help with their outreach school programs, you know?

(There are a lot of other issues around this, which I think other people have spoken of more eloquently on the blue, like the de-professionalization of roles, especially those often filled by volunteer women, in non-profits, but I don't have a link ready!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2013


So, anyone whose job you can't off-shore, automate, or redefine as a consultant, you simply make work for free?
Which will be the first company to require employees pay the company for working?


Every girl you see on that pole paid to be on it.
posted by Rubbstone at 2:26 PM on December 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media

This is a gutsy article and as a former unpaid media naif I strongly relate. (Vice is starting to do a lot better stuff than it used to.)

“We'll work you hard and demand your best,” the magazine says. “And in the end you'll learn a ton, and be our hero.”

This seems like less of a fair contract and more like the messages that extol you as a ninja for ordering food from Grubhub. It's upsetting to read about Mother Jones and Salon taking advantage of desperate college graduates' need for approval and validation. Like a lot of young people I used to be willing to do anything to please those guys, to figure out the secret for becoming a member of the media club. I went to just absurd lengths before learning the important lesson that for most of us, no exposure is ever going to be enough...whether you're scrapping it out in the lowest depths of Craigslist Writing Gigs like this one for ToiletFinder.com or getting seen on the Huffington Post.
posted by steinsaltz at 2:30 PM on December 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


My suspicion is that the unpaid internship thing is another accidental side effect of the effective ban on pre-employment testing. You can't test new employees without creating a risk of liability. You cannot meaningfully inspect their transcripts because of grade inflation and simply using the fact that they got a degree as a first-pass filter is no longer enough. There is a glut of candidates for any position and you need a way to filter them and since the obvious approach is a no-go you go with giving them trial jobs and whoever survives the sieve gets a paying position.

That said,

When companies pile up large amount of money to pay it out to executives who will hoard it, or just sit on it, that's money that could go into creating new jobs. A lot of this is companies deciding that the contributions of an individual executive is worth much more than that of employees.

Companies are not hoarding cash because their executives want to roll around in piles of one hundred dollar bills, they are hoarding cash because there is literally nothing that they can spend the money on that will have a positive effects on their business that exceed the value of just holding the cash and/or paying dividends. This is a huge problem for large companies like apple, microsoft, Intel, etc. that are throwing off billions of dollars in cash. It's very hard to invest (in the market or in projects) that kind of money. In technology and manufacturing especially there are serious surpluses everywhere you look that is making life very hard for the big companies -- the impact of this on the future of semiconductor fabs alone would be an interesting FPP.

Hiring more people to ... well, do whatever, is not a solution to that problem. The reason they are sitting on it is that there are no meaningful jobs for them to create where meaningful is defined by ROI.

Also, Kendzior is naively ignoring that the people most capable of fighting against the practice of unpaid internships are also the ones that are least impacted by it. Even in the engineering space when I got my degree there were people who did unpaid internships _in software at the beginning of the dotcom where even being able to spell HTML would get you a well-paying gig_ at too-cool companies like the CG effects shops. People paid their own way to go hang out where it was cool. When fanboy types are so excited to work for you that they line up at your door for unpaid jobs where the tasks include cleaning up the break room, yeah, they don't get paid internships.
posted by rr at 4:48 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


That Vice article about liberal news outlets refusing to pay interns has some great, sharp stuff, including the obvious conflict between this tweet from In These Times:

"Interns must unite to stop the trend toward free labor becoming the norm: http://goo.gl/CGXew #InternNation"

and this sentence on the internships/jobs page at In These Times: "All internships are currently unpaid."

Here are a few other gems:

- The New Republic used to advertise that its internships “are full-time, unpaid, and based in the DC office,” but that language was removed soon after the magazine became aware of this story. Spokesperson Annie Augustine told me that despite the change in language, “there has not been a change in policy.” However, she added that “interns are given the option to work flexible hours so they can take part-time jobs.”

- The American Prospect did not respond to a request for comment...

- “During our first meeting with HR at Mother Jones, we were advised to sign up for food stamps.”

- Democracy Now!, the venerable progressive broadcast hosted by journalist Amy Goodman, requires interns at its new, LEED Platinum–certified office in Manhattan to work for free for two months, for a minimum of 20 hours a week, after which “a $15 expense allowance is provided on days you work five or more hours.” ...Requests for comment were not acknowledged by Democracy Now!.

- “Some professional experience is required,” says a listing for an editorial internship at Salon...Though it does not pay its professionally experienced interns a dime, Salon...has had the chutzpah to run a number of stories on the plight of unpaid workers, such as, “'Intern Nation': Are We Exploiting a Generation of Workers?” and “Unpaid and Sexually Harassed: The Latest Intern Injustice.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

- Harper's is looking for interns to “work on a full-time, unpaid basis for three to five months”

- Washington Monthly, which claims to be “thriving” thanks to “generous long-term support from foundations and donors,” is offering internships that are “unpaid and can be either part-time or full-time.”


The good guys in the article are ProPublica, Dissent, Utne Reader, Truthout.org and to a lesser extent The Nation and Mother Jones, who have recently changed their policies.
posted by mediareport at 6:49 PM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


The good guys in the article are ProPublica, Dissent, Utne Reader, Truthout.org and to a lesser extent The Nation and Mother Jones, who have recently changed their policies.

When making statements about organizations like this you should add "for now." Because they will revert them as soon as the spotlight of the internet is has moved on to some new outrage of the moment and all of the green^H^H^H^H^H pink^H^H^H^H whatever facebook avatars have faded away.

I would pay for a subscription to a service that provided lifecycle management for the privacy and other policies that organizations I deal with maintain. "Tell me when this changes" would be a first step, "tell me when it violates my personal policy" would be fantastic.

Great opportunity for a nonprofit...
posted by rr at 6:57 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hiring more people to ... well, do whatever, is not a solution to that problem. The reason they are sitting on it is that there are no meaningful jobs for them to create where meaningful is defined by ROI.

Maybe all those tech companies with roomfuls of money they can't find anything to do with should invest in some media subsidiaries and throw some money at Salon and other online/print media outlets so they can afford pay their staff living wages and not rely on interns. The ROI would be the same as the ROI Henry Ford got for paying his factory workers enough to afford his cars: namely, an economy that isn't greedily devouring itself.

(But seriously: the whole thing we do in the US where people get to act as if they aren't also still responsible for being decent human beings and responsible members of their community in carrying out their other responsibilities just because they've also got other narrower responsibilities in other roles they play in life has got to be corrected. We wear our roles in life the way russian dolls are nested; we don't get to take off our humanity like a cheap suit before putting on our suits and ties, no matter how expensive those suits and ties may be.)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:05 PM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a huge problem for large companies like apple, microsoft, Intel, etc. that are throwing off billions of dollars in cash.

I would not mind having this problem. I'll bet I could figure out something to do with the money. This seems like nothing more than a ridiculous level of shortsightedness.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:45 PM on December 2, 2013


The ROI would be the same as the ROI Henry Ford got for paying his factory workers enough to afford his cars: namely, an economy that isn't greedily devouring itself.

You're acting like Ford did that out of the sheer goodness of his heart. I'm pretty sure that's not how it was. He paid his workers more because he could afford to pass that cost on to the customer. I don't know that the tech companies you're talking about could afford to do that today.
posted by valkyryn at 1:10 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're acting like Ford did that out of the sheer goodness of his heart.

No I am not. He knew and understood people didn't have the kinds of jobs in the US that paid well enough to make his business model work, so he took a chance on trying to exert an upward pricing effect on the labor market, and it paid off. He wanted a mass market to sell his product to (because his business model depended on it), so he used his economic power to help create one.

He was a grade-A asshole in so many ways (not least of all his fascist sympathies and support for the Nazi party), but he was a visionary enough industrialist to understand that, with enough capital, you can remake the world on a larger scale. The focus today is too narrow and short-term.

I didn't mean to imply a connection between Ford and the moral argument I made a little later in the comment. Ford represents the practical, business case for investing in labor. But personally, I think the moral argument is also pretty straightforward.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:54 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


simply using the fact that they got a degree as a first-pass filter is no longer enough

It's not like it ever was an effective filter in the first place. It's pretty hard not to learn that if you've had more than a dozen coworkers throughout your career.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Imagine if there was no filter at all.
posted by rr at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2013


I would not mind having this problem. I'll bet I could figure out something to do with the money. This seems like nothing more than a ridiculous level of shortsightedness.

They are obligated to spend the money in a way that benefits their business, not in creating a fragile and useless makework program to support the overproduction of unnecessary (to them) professional classes. What good would it do? They'd absorb a few hundred people and then we are back to where we are.
posted by rr at 7:41 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're acting like Ford did that out of the sheer goodness of his heart. I'm pretty sure that's not how it was. He paid his workers more because he could afford to pass that cost on to the customer. I don't know that the tech companies you're talking about could afford to do that today.

They certainly have the cash!

It's not about the goodness of anyone's heart. The problem with the economy today is that there is not enough demand. To put it another way, people aren't buying shit. Why aren't people buying shit? Because there aren't enough good-paying jobs. Why aren't there enough good paying jobs? Because companies are afraid to expand, because people aren't buying shit. But why can't people buy shit? Because there aren't enough good-paying jobs. But why aren't there enough good paying jobs? Because companies are afraid to expand, because people aren't buying shit.

See the circular logic? If companies expanded, maybe people could buy shit! (The government could help here, too, but that's another discussion.)
posted by breakin' the law at 7:47 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Imagine if there was no filter at all.

How is a counterproductive filter better than none at all?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:49 AM on December 3, 2013


Because companies are afraid to expand, because people aren't buying shit.

The problem is not lack of demand, it's lack of margin. PC sales are not suffering from a recoverable lack of demand, for example, and boosting a project via investment there is not going to help recover the value of that market; tablets and to a lesser extent smartphones have destroyed it and it is in permanent decline. The overcapacity problem I mentioned above further is impacting the server market pretty severely.

Tablets is an example as well: android has destroyed the margin there and in smartphones.

Destroying margin is what functioning markets are supposed to do, of course, but note that it basically creates impenetrable monopolies since to extract value one has to have enormous amounts of capital and be a huge, complex organization that can harvest value by optimizing the supply chain, etc.
posted by rr at 7:57 AM on December 3, 2013


“Some professional experience is required,” says a listing for an editorial internship at Salon...Though it does not pay its professionally experienced interns a dime, Salon...has had the chutzpah to run a number of stories on the plight of unpaid workers

Salon is the worst. The comparison above to the ancient journeyman / apprentice system is compelling, except that in the case of prestigious media outlets, it is not like being an electrician where you can then graduate from your apprenticeship to becoming a working $50/hr member of the profession. A chosen few are invited inside the building and it is not clear what you have to do to be one of them.

Like they say in "Saturday Night Fever": "It's a dog-eat-dog world...They have it all locked up. Nobody will give you a chance."
posted by steinsaltz at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2013


Even paid internships can hurt the working poor. (A short blog post by the always-worth-reading Ingrid Avendaño.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:43 PM on December 3, 2013


Failure in a smaller, shitty, failing city < failure in a large city of opportunity. If you need anecdotal evidence (that's all I can provide) look at my credit card debt from the last two years-- all accrued while trying to make it in a city of no opportunity where cost-of-living is dirt cheap. Meanwhile I was able to get a job in a state hundreds of miles away long distance, move, and make probably 2-3x as much as I ever could have made in the blehh city, with a very limited "skill set." I am supporting myself healthily and paying off that debt now because there were more opportunities for someone with an odd, university-cultivated skill set here than elsewhere.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:29 AM on December 4, 2013


The problem with the "people aren't buying shit, let's make them buy shit" angle is that buying shit indiscriminately is actually bad for people. It is bad for people as individuals when they buy shiny new gew-gaws, and good for them when they save their money. When we attempt to fix our economy by forcing people into destructive behaviors, it is a sign that our economy is not only unhealthy but also built on a house of straw.
posted by corb at 5:02 AM on December 4, 2013


Then I guess all economies are inherently unhealthy because every economy there is or could ever be depends for its health on people buying and selling stuff.

Sure, it doesn't necessarily have to be useless cheap plastic crap, but people have to buy and sell things to keep any economy from collapsing.

This is just so fundamental and obvious it feels kind of weird even having to say it.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:59 AM on December 4, 2013


corb: "When we attempt to fix our economy by forcing people into destructive behaviors, it is a sign that our economy is not only unhealthy but also built on a house of straw."

Economics is not a morality play. Neither saving nor borrowing is inherently vice or virtue, and though I'm sure you'll say that you were talking about everyone, this kind of language is never used to scold a wealthy business owner from borrowing in order to open a new location, or to say that everyone should be paying in cash for their home instead of taking out a 30 year mortgage.

Anyway, this isn't an economy where we need to "force people" to buy shit. We could easily spend a trillion dollars on things that our citizens and our economy desperately need. This would put money in peoples' pockets, and they'd spend it. Some would spend it on "shiny new gew-gaws", but given the increase in income inequality throughout the great recession, that kind of behavior would be mostly confined to the kind of people who live in five bedroom homes in wealthy areas of the country, not the working poor and unemployed that would love to be driving our economy if someone would give them a decent-paying job.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:47 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


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