“I worked for free.” No you didn’t.

A few weeks ago I committed the worst crimes of all by defending unpaid internships on social media:

“It’s dumb”, “‘it’s bullshit”, “it makes no sense”. Some of the reactions I got weren’t necessarily positive (I did not expect too many of them anyway, mind you), but they reflected the idea that you should be paid monetarily for your work. As we all know, providing an education is completely worthless, which is why also professors and teachers in higher education merely volunteer for their work.

“And they got a slave”, adds one commentator.

Not only is the comparison with slavery seriously sickening, out of proportion and shameful, it’s also manifestly incorrect.

When I was 16 I got my first internship at a radio station (after sending out as many letters to companies as I could), taking my time out of my school holidays to work for, brace yourselves, FREE. With one only notable twist: the internship offered me opportunities I would not have been able to buy or learn in a school. I had learned to edit audio files, record with a microphone, conduct an interview, record in a studio and edit my work. Lastly, I had effectively networked and met people I would have otherwise had no access to.

My first interview and editing was a disaster: I would have been ashamed to ask money to anyone for the work I had produced (Neither would anyone had offered for that matter).

The essence here is that I would not have been paid for the position no matter what, and neither would anyone else have been. Most of the time, my coworkers had to take time out of their work schedule to explain work procedures to me, which would cost money if you’d learn it from a teacher in a school.

No, you didn’t work for free, you got the cheapest form of education you can possibly get these days, and instead of whining about your “exploitation”, you should get some work done. Those who use this term are mostly advocating government regulation of the freedom of association of companies and individuals, effectively rendering these forms of employment impossible. So with your entitled attitude you achieved one thing: you reduced labour opportunities of people who are in the same situation as you are, to your own (imaginary) benefit. What do we call that again?

Unpaid internships are an immense opportunity for young people to enter the workforce, especially in a time when degrees from university are increasingly disregarded in their value.

And for the “it’s slave labour people out there”, here’s some last advice I’ll give you (it’s free this time): if you don’t like your internship, either quit or become competitive enough to be paid.

But stop whining.


This article was first published by Freedom Today.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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