The Obama administration, like previous administrations, allows rich parents in effect to buy résumé-enhancing jobs in the public sector for their upper-class offspring. The sale of public offices to rich families was one of the abuses of the Ancien Régime that helped to inspire the French Revolution. Like that corrupt premodern practice, unpaid internships are an inherently aristocratic institution. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, and you don't have a personal trust fund or rich parents who can fund your living expenses as an unpaid intern in Washington, D.C., New York or San Francisco, then you are out of luck.
When I say rich kids, I mean really rich kids. We're talking One Percenters. Even many upper-middle-class parents with professional jobs might not be able to subsidize children with unpaid internships at the White House, Washington think tanks or New York publications and media enterprises.
Because my own parents were not rich, in my twenties I could never have afforded a job as an unpaid or poorly-paid intern at any of the magazines for which I once worked in my thirties as a writer or editor — the New Republic, Harper's Magazine or the New Yorker. Indeed, it was my unscientific impression that the interns at these publications were much richer, in their twenties, thanks to family wealth, than most of the middle-aged editors and writers. An intern at one magazine had a party for the magazine staff at her two-story Midtown Manhattan apartment.
It is a means of walling off the best opportunities for rich kids, and it's wrong.