Timothy Noah is a senior editor of The New Republic.
I hate it when somebody tells a joke and blows the punchline. The Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles auctioned off an internship in the office of Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. — without actual authorization from Pryor's office, which the donor, a venture capitalist named Chad Brownstein, a Pryor pal, figured he could get later — and the winner was soft-porn entrepreneur and Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis, who pledged to give it to the next winner of his current show, The Search For The Hottest Girl In America. Ha ha ha!
But the story isn't that a smokin' babe got herself an internship in Mark Pryor's office (only a theoretical one, since Pryor's office isn't honoring Brownstein's pledge). The story is that everyone takes it in stride that internships, a principal avenue for upward mobility in our economy, have become a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. This idea wasn't dreamed up by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. It's a national trend. All sorts of highly desirable, hard-to-get internships are being auctioned off (usually at private schools), and those who donate them congratulate themselves for their public-spiritedness in supporting the cause of education or religion or whatever. It never seems to occur to them that they are making the American meritocracy even more of a rigged game than it already is. Opportunity should not be bought and sold, even (perhaps especially) to benefit causes that purport to be charitable.