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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12391/the-war-on-internships/

The War on Internships

April 6, 2010 by

Who loses if this crackdown succeeds? The same groups that are winning under the present increase in internships: young people and their employers and would-be employers. There can be no other way that this plays itself out. FULL ARTICLE by Jeffrey Tucker


Robby April 6, 2010 at 10:21 am


I’m a 25-year-old second-year law student who holds two undergraduate degrees. With all of that schooling, I have learned this: schooling is a nearly useless way of preparing one to be able to earn a living. I have learned a great deal about British literature, calculus, Russian politics, constitutional history, and, my personal favorite, the operations of the British Royal Navy from the 16th Century to the middle of the 19th Century. I am very well-rounded. I have a long list of extra-curricular activities and memberships to put on a resume. Yet, after some reflection, I have come realize that I have done nothing–learned nothing–which would prepare me to either be a valuable asset to someone’s company or take the entrepreneurial plunge with my own venture. Even in law school, which is widely referred to as a “professional school,” I have not yet, and at no point will, learned how to do things like file a document in a court. Upon graduation, I will be in no way prepared to be a lawyer. I will need to go to work for a lawyer who will teach me how to be a lawyer. That’s after I finish spending around $35,000 (at a state school, no less) at law school, supposedly to learn to be a lawyer.

I say all that to say this: I have believed for quite some time that “getting an education,” taken to mean going to a college for a few years and getting a degree in something, is a ridiculous way to prepare to enter the labor market. It is quite difficult, through this process, to gauge whether a market exists for holders of a particular degree, and it is even more difficult to gauge whether a market will exist four-plus years later. To worsen the situation, during high school and college students are rarely encouraged to learn things which will make them employable, but instead are encouraged to study subjects which interest them. This is a fine thing so long as one has the savings to live as a student while studying a topic which may or may not lead to the further accumulation of wealth. But for the education establishment to suggest–even explicitly state–that simply earning a college degree, any degree, will prepare a student for a career, is preposterous, and a real shame since these are the people students have been taught since kindergarten to look to for advice on these things.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, are market-responsive and teach valuable skills. This seems the logical way of training a workforce, but the existence of the apprentice system is brought to the attention of students only in passing when learning about Paul Revere’s Ride. Apprenticing oneself to a lawyer is certainly the only rational way of learning to be a lawyer.

ABR April 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for lawyers to learn their trade via apprenticeship. I asked my uncle, who was a lawyer and later a judge, what he thought of the lawyers that went that route. Not much.

They could file a document, all right, but many never really learned the principles of law — how to think as a lawyer. I suspect the same is true of many who attend technical schools. They know a lot more stuff than college grads, but the stuff they learn will be obsolete in a few years or so.

Art Thomas April 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Virginia is one of several states where you can “read” law under the tutelage of a lawyer as alternative to law school. I did it for six months and another fellow did it with the same lawyer but went the whole route, took the bar and began a law practice. Reading law has not the status of a degree from UVa Law School, but it is an effective means to become a lawyer and a lot more fun.

Robby April 6, 2010 at 5:28 pm


This business of going to college and law school to learn how to think, or how to think as a lawyer, is a bit of bunk, I fear. I was never once challenged to actually “think” about something in college. I was frequently asked to process information through one ideological meat grinder or another, to use a particular approach to describe something, but never to actually think something through. I mean that in the sense of approaching a problem by identifying assumptions and premises, then logically working through to find a solution. This, and my two degrees are “liberal arts” degrees.

As for law school teaching me to think like a lawyer, again, the claim is quite puffed up. Here’s how to think like a lawyer: If there is a statute governing a particular point of law, look it up. Do what it says. Invariably, it won’t make sense. This is not because you’re not smart, it is because it was written as a compromise by a group of people who don’t know anything about the underlying substance. When it doesn’t make sense, use a paid service to locate case law, read the cases, and do what the judges said to do. If there is no statute, read a hornbook summarizing the common law decisions. Apply the tests (the judge-made stuff nearly always comes with immensely more sensible elements) the judges have devised to see if your situation fits into one of the common law causes of action. If it doesn’t, come up with an argument that would redefine either your facts or the law so that your facts fit (or don’t) as necessary. There you go. No law school required. I could have gotten this lesson in a couple of afternoons with a capable attorney.

ABR April 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Robby, what you describe does not match my uncle’s experience one iota. Which does not mean you’re wrong. Different times, different jurisdictions, different universities.

jeffrey A. April 6, 2010 at 10:43 am

I’m a 24-year old undergraduate degree holder, from a US News top 50 private institution, who works 2 jobs for just a shade over minimum wage. I am living this reality and it is pretty lame. Plus the fact that there is such an over-saturation of degrees in the marketplace of people who never would have gotten them if they weren’t practically forced into it.

Anyway, thanks for yet another excellent piece of the explanation as to why this is a terrible time to be young in the marketplace.

Joe Peric April 6, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Excellent article. I think everyone in my age group (I’m 25) could agree to this article. We’re given an experienced divorced from reality and not made to be something useful. It’s a shame. I’m lucky I’ve had work in my field, but I can only imagine what it’s like for other people.

J. Murray April 6, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I’m right in that age range, 28, and I also agree. But I’ve been lucky since I went through school paying my own way by holding down a full time job at the same time. I would definitely press other would-be college entrants to take that same path. That’s the primiary reason why I was able to land such a good job right out of college (I’ve just enjoyed the “honor” of paying a marginal income tax of 28% for the first time this year) is because I had four years of extensive work history when I applied. Holding the degree was just a tie-breaker.

It’s a sad world when my resume at 24 looks like the resume that most people have by the time they reach 30. Holding down a job while going to school is definitely a huge deal winner in the business world.

J. Murray April 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm

It really depends. The vast majority of the “degrees” out there have no business existing. Education is a fairly narrow function and is only useful if the job requires significant theoretical understanding of a subject before even attempting to work it. Certain fields of engineering, medicine, chemistry, and accounting are examples. Most everything else is pointless getting a degree in, such as the (Insert Favorite Minority or Religion Here) Studies, Business Management, the entire Humanities department, and even things like economics are of little value because they can be learned just as easily and efficiently on your own free through the Internet, such as regularly reading Mises.org for Economics and taking advantage of the long list of free books. Even schools like MIT are beginning to offer all of their programs online for free, you just have to pay them for the paper that says you graduated.

The only reason I’m even conetmplating obtaining a PhD in Economics is not becuase I actually would learn anything (I probably could hold my own against most PhD holders right now) but because no one takes you seriously without the title and gives more weight to the guy with the title over the one who doesn’t.

Lina Inverse April 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm

No, no, MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is in no way offering credit, let alone a sheepskin.

Worse, the capture of MIT’s courses is very uneven. Some are only useful as a starting point for another instructor. Some require access to a research library because the readings are not collected in a book. Most don’t have the lectures in any form. And some critical courses just haven’t been captured and there are no plans to do anything about this (e.g. first term Inorganic Chemistry; 2nd term is there, through…). (In fact, there are signs OCW may be going into something of a maintenance mode now; if you like it, donate!)

MIT is doing a very good thing, and much more thoroughly than any other university that I know of, but OCW is no substitute for the real thing.

(Chemistry, Class of 1983….)

Eric April 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I grew up in Philly and attended Drexel Institute of Technology – now Drexel U.

After your first year, they send you into industry as an intern for 1/2 the year. In my first job (I was a math major) I worked at an insurance company. In about 3 hours one day I got a one on one course on financial math – compound interest, annuities, etc. This is because nothing in my years of schooling up through my freshmen year taught this stuff.

But what interested me the most, was not these calculators we used to compute interest rates (and would have fun finding large numbers to divide that would make each one sing a song for a minute – chugga chugga ching…)


but rather all the other strange offline 80 and 90 card punch equipment on the 10th floor where I would hang out a lot. One day our department was given thousands of 90 column computer cards and we were told to type onto paper the text written on the tops of them. A light bulb went off and I saved them many tedious hours by using those offline card to printer machines which I learned to program with a plug board. The thrill of success on the job was quite a learning experience.

In my third year, I switched to physics. So they got me a job in a coastal erosion research facility where I learned the value of using computers. There I was tasked to manually create charts from optical scanning forms. Again, a tedious job where I discovered that a computer could make my job easier. When I suggested we use computers, they said – well, if you can figure it out go for it. And so I pretty much taught myself computer programming – with the help of a friendly computer programmer who would answer my many questions.

When I returned to school (around 1968) I knew then I wanted to study computer science. But Drexel didn’t have a computer science department yet, it was considered part of the math dept, so I went to talk to the Math Dean. He said computers were just a fancy technical fad and that to be a true math major I needed to take a full year of Russian. I replied that I’d rather take FORTRAN for the foreign language requirement. The Dean got angry and told me to go to the technical school down the road as this wasn’t true college material.

Well, at least I had a very good adviser in the physics dept. who got me into an honors program where I could choose all my own courses. When I graduated, they asked me to recommend courses for a new computer science department.

Well, that little bit of experience with computers led to a 40 year career in computer programming. Was college worth it? Well, yes since I went to an unusual college that found you internships for 6 months at a time. The school (other than the math dean) regarded the industry assignments equally important to the school work.

And one last thing, when I graduated, I recall looking in the newspaper for a job and there was an entire huge section on trainee positions.

Too bad times have changed.

Zach Bibeault April 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm

What you said about most of today’s schooling being worthless for careers is so true. I just acquired my first full-time job (graduated college last December) after nearly three months of searching, and my supervisor was more concerned about the fact that I hadn’t worked long-term for the last couple years BECAUSE I was tied down with college. The existence of my degree was
not even cross-referenced. That alone is proof that work experience is 1000 times more valuable to employers than a piece of paper
with value analogous to a fiat dollar.

Jeffrey Tucker April 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm

from http://fascistsoup.com/2010/04/06/hire-an-intern-go-to-jail/

Check out the White House policy:

Is the White House Internship a paid position?

No. White House Internships are unpaid positions. Applicants are encouraged to contact educational and other non-profit organizations to apply for funding or housing assistance, but note that any outside income, funding or housing assistance you may receive as a White House intern must be pre-approved by the White House Counsel’s Office. If you are selected as an intern, we will be in contact with you to review any outside funds you intend to receive. Applicants may contact local schools for housing opportunities.

PK April 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm

The policy only affects “unpaid internships at private-sector companies to clamp down on firms violating wage laws.” Government positions are out of the scope of this investigation. [1]

1. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&sid=aTLABvxLIVcA

Zach Bibeault April 6, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hah! Why am I not surprised.

Guard April 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm

The article is right on – for non-governmental jobs. For anything government or directly connected with it, a piece of paper trumps a proven history of actually doing the job well. This is of course not accidental since the governments are in the business of providing the education for a fee.
For now, the only way I can use some of my skills legally is to keep it within my own family or personal use, and even that is getting harder to do. I try to encourage a healthy black market in valuable skills, as they one by one fall under government censure.

Cybertarian April 6, 2010 at 3:39 pm


“second-year law student”

I don’t mean no disrespect, but as far as I am concerned, studying the law is like studying religion or astrology. There is no scientific nor foundational bases for the law, it’s just regulatory and political drivel made up stuff for the most part. It is not mechanical nor technological.

To study a book of law is to study a book of tantrums and caprices. The law is nothing but the King’s caprices put into code. If the state coercion would disappear, your law degree would not be worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

The real law, the common law, doesn’t require a degree to understand and put into action.

With that said, it’s a good thing that somebody on our side is studying the law to help us circumvent it. But I bet you would agree with me that the law is unecessarily complex and places too big a burden on the everyday honest citizen who just wants to make an honest living.

No offense, that’s just my way of seeing things.

iawai April 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Also being a law “student”, I must agree, and admit that I’ve learned more foundational law from Rothbard and Mises audios than from 2 years of studying the application of these foundations to cases. About the only law course that really gets to the “why” of law is torts, and that’s because they have to explain the beginnings of the common law without reference to any particular state.

Robby April 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm


I agree completely. Stephan Kinsella (a patent lawyer on our side of all things) has written very effectively on the detrimental effects of legislation. Much of his work is available through this site. A modern American law degree is in no way a means of understanding justice, rights, or the peaceful operation of society. It is a means of being allowed to practice in an industry in which I can either benefit from bringing the coercive apparatus of the state to bear in my favor (indirectly through my clients) or benefit by helping people saddled with the state but not saddled with knowledge of its edicts to jump through the hoops as efficiently as possible, so they can go on with their lives.

Cybertarian April 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm


And with the financial, health care and other regulations and reforms coming up, depending on your law specialization, you are certain to have a job for years to come.

If you couple your law education with a second language like mandarin and some business management skills, you could be the next president of the USA. LOL ! Or at least a highly paid lawyer in an international business law firm.

The law and the tax code, with it’s infinite little details, you will certainly have plenty of work opportunities.

Robby April 6, 2010 at 5:56 pm

That could be true, but I doubt it will turn out the way you imagine. One of the biggest boom activities the last couple of decades has been lawyering. Since Bear Stearns bit the dust, law firms have been imploding all over the place. While more laws mean more work for lawyers, the continuing assault on private wealth means that, while many individuals, groups, partnerships, and corporations need legal guidance, fewer and fewer of them are able to actually pay for the services. I think we will see a radical move toward the nationalization of the legal profession (well, to the extent that it is not nationalized already). By this I mean that, since decreasing numbers of persons will be able to fight the lawsuits which will styled “U.S. v. Whoever,” brought by the FTC, FCC, the Health Caesar, the Car Caesar, and the myriad other Caesars (I prefer the Latin from over “Czar” because I think more people associate the Latin Caesar than the Russian Czar with “absolute dictator”), the federal government will, at first, “provide,” and, as things progress, “assign” lawyers from its own staff to represent defendants against others of its own lawyers in its own courts before its own judges. Then, the plentitude of work opportunity to which you referred will be co-opted by the state, along with everything else it is co-opting, and instead of consumer demand dictating the number of lawyers, we will have bureaucrats (undoubtedly, ones unfamiliar with the legal process) deciding how many lawyers to hire. I’m sure that’ll go well. (That’s sarcasm, for those unused to using context clues.)

By the way, I’m not really looking to get into that game. Instead, I hope that, along with what I consider an above-average mental ability, spending three years reading the Internal Revenue Code and the corporations laws will be something that adds value to a venture that someone with more savings than me wishes to undertake.

Cybertarian April 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Zach Bibeault,

In free market capitalism, private companies could start their own specialized schools and this would have much more relevancy to marketable skills than today’s public schools.

If a person wants to study pure academics and has the money to do so, then he could enroll in a private school that teaches worthless “skills” and “knowledge” like sociology, morals, religion etc.

But if a person wants to get a job to start earning money, then he could enroll in a business sponsored trade school and rapidly make it to the market place.

Later on in life, when he has worked a lot of hours and saved a lot of money, could he enroll in an anthropology or other pure science class that has little marketable value.

Zach Bibeault April 6, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I completely agree. Unfortunately when I started college in fall 2006 I didn’t know anything about economics, much less about Austrian economics

Cybertarian April 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm

J. Murray,

Math and computer programming can be learned by yourself using books, the internet, a computer and a lot of hours, efforts and dedication.

I know, that’s what I am doing. I am enrolled in a computer programming course at the university but they leave you quite on your own to figure things out.

Lina Inverse April 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

It’s been my experience that not everyone can do that. I have seldom been able to learn math outside of a structured class with a good instructor. I’ve helped lots of people learn computer programming who couldn’t pick it up like I can with a language definition book and a problem to solve.

ABR April 6, 2010 at 4:55 pm

A similar problem exists in theatre. Why are casts (in straight plays) becoming sparser and sparser, to the point where a two-hander constitutes a gigantic cast? Costs, a.k.a. unions.

A young actor would give his left ear for a small part in a prominent production, but under union rules his wage becomes a major liability.

billwald April 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Don’t know anything about theater unions but the building trades unions have traditionally supported apprenticeships.

DBW April 6, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Mr. Tucker, I always enjoy your articles concerning us graduates and market forces. This last article is no exception. At age 25, and been looking for a full-time job for over two years now since graduation, it seems as if many employers are utterly uninterested in training undertaken in college if there is no reference from an employer to vouch for my skills. And for good reason. Would you buy a car whose maker reports “excellent performance and handling” but no sources to tests, drivers, etc, or the car which is already reviewed as “excellent” by many private owners in major websites? Which would you choose to transport your precious cargo? And with no test-drives allowed, the decision is all the easier to make.

An interesting coincidence that having majored in Criminal Justice, I find this thread talking about the law profession. I will reitereate what others have said; I’ve learned more about law from Rothbard and Mises than from college. In fact, they were the inspiration for me to switch to the private sector.

David Bowman April 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm

For the past four years I have been employed by one of the major players in the farm and light industrial machinery sector. Prior to that, I was employed by independent retail dealers for this equipment. Prior to that, I was a high school graduate. Wanting to “break into” the “big leagues” of the corporate world about ten years ago, I submitted an application with my present company upon discovering they had an opening I would be well suited for. I already knew the manager of the department from my retail dealings, and felt I had a pretty good shot. Weeks went by with no word. Then months. Finally I had an opportunity to inquire of him why I was passed over and also took the opportunity to ask if there was something I could do to improve my chances for an interview.
The answer I got was along the lines of “you don’t have the education that the company is looking for”. He went on to recite from several of the applications he currently had sitting on his desk. “BS of AG science.” “Masters degree in mechanical engineering.” And so on through several more. He told me that basically his “hands were tied” by HR. I thanked him for the information and went on about my business, satisfied that at least I had given it a shot and that quite possibly they were, in fact, a bigger loser than me for taking such a bureaucratic view in their hiring practices. Lo and behold, five years after I had first applied I got a call, out of the blue, asking if I would consider interviewing with the company. I did and later discovered I was the only candidate. After a couple of years I finally got up the nerve to ask what had changed? I was told by my boss that he had gotten tired of trainees with degrees and was able to convince his superiors that he needed someone with experience that could get the job done. I am thrilled with my job and I know my boss is equally thrilled to have me. I’ve even become the “go-to” guy for a lot of the other departments for help with computer and IT issues (again with no formal training, just an intense curiosity). My “apprenticeships” with the retail companies served their needs at the time, served my needs at the time, and made for a wonderful fit with my current employer. Everybody wins!

Guard April 7, 2010 at 1:32 am

That’s great David, and I’m glad it worked for you. I myself have been through at least two professions where I had done a good job for years, then the educational requirements were changed by bureaucracy making it impossible for me to advance or even move laterally.

Bill Miller April 7, 2010 at 7:01 am

“I suspect the same is true of many who attend technical schools. They know a lot more stuff than college grads, but the stuff they learn will be obsolete in a few years or so.”
That’s not due to a deficiency in their training-technical knowledge becomes obsolete quickly because technology is rapidly advancing.

Tim Kern April 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Does this not spell the end of collegiate sports and performing arts?

I’m sure the internships (more properly called, “farm systems”) colleges provide at no charge to the NBA, NFL, and other major leagues are going to come under fire when this idea catches on. And what about collegiate concerts and theater productions?

The colleges make the money, and the students don’t get paid. Oh, the horror of it all!

Kevin April 8, 2010 at 10:40 am

I have worked as a manager (category management) interviewing prospective employees for my team at a Fortune 500 company. I saw applicants with bachelor degrees, masters degrees, and no degrees at all. To me it didn’t matter if they had a degree or not as long as they could demonstrate that they knew how to analyze data and understood the buying decision-making process (markup vs margin, turnover rate, ROI, etc). I preferred people with experience in this field over someone with a degree and no experience. I always thought it was funny that the ones with the masters always expected jobs to be given to them even though they had no experience. One of my best employees never finished her degree but she had the experience I was looking for and it showed in her work. Experience always trumped education in my hiring decision making so if I had an applicant who had an internship in our field along with the degree then they would definitely be a likely candidate.
A college degree shows that you understand the principles within a field but it doesn’t make you an expert. Someone with a degree has studied principles of advanced mathematics, economics, etc but more importantly has had computer experience (Excel, PowerPoint, Access, etc) since they typically need to use those programs for their degree. Like I said, I put more emphasis on experience over education but experience PLUS education is the best. The most worthless candidates were the one with advanced degrees. Advanced degrees (masters) were unnecessary in my field.
In regards to your article, Mr Tucker. The government document you cited is for companies who are agreeing to take on trainees – not interns. The trainees are people who are currently collecting unemployment benefits or who have exhausted their unemployment benefits or didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits but are unemployed and looking for work. The government subsidizes companies who can take on these trainees so they can learn a new skill (like a textile worker learning IT since textile jobs are now all gone). Since the government is providing money to train these people, they have requirements to qualify for these subsidies – it’s not a free-for-all in regards to money. Interns are completely different from trainees. There is no war on internships. You seem to be making a controversy out of unrelated topics.

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