Here’s a letter to Leslie Eastman, at a publication called “College Insurrection”; (I thank Jack G. for the pointer):
Dear Ms. Eastman:
You quote – seemingly with approval – American University senior Radhika Raman who opposes unpaid internships because, in her view, such opportunities “contribute to economic inequality by favoring wealthy students who can afford to pay for housing, food and transportation expenses” (“American U. Student: Unpaid internships exacerbate inequality,” July 5).
We Americans are routinely beseeched to “volunteer.” We are assured that volunteers experience a warm sense of personal achievement as well as gratifying connectedness with people who would otherwise remain perfect strangers to the volunteers. All good things. Also, high-school students are advised that a solid record of volunteering increases their chances of being admitted to their preferred colleges.
My 16-year-old son volunteers at a community theater for these very reasons.
Does Ms. Raman believe that such volunteering should be made illegal? Do those of us from middle- and upper income households – who can afford to give some of our time away for free in exchange for the personal benefits we receive from volunteering – enjoy such “unfair” advantages over less-affluent people that we should be prevented from volunteering (and, hence, ironically be compelled to demand monetary payment in exchange for labor services that we now supply free of charge)?
Another question: I’ve never been paid for the blog that I’ve written daily for the past nine years. Yet the popularity of this blog has opened for me many professional and income-earning opportunities that would otherwise have remained unavailable to me. Does Ms. Raman feel that government should prevent unpaid blogging on the grounds that poor people, unlike wealthier people, cannot easily afford to spend time volunteering their thoughts through this medium?
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
Coincidentally, David Henderson writes at EconLog today – with insight, as always – on this very issue.