You’re Paid What You’re Worth.” One of the biggest myths is that what we’re paid reflects our performance, argues Mr. Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

In theory, workers should be paid based on how much money a business generates thanks to their work, and for some rainmakers that may be clear. But that’s often not the case. Mr. Rosenfeld blames several structural factors for undermining the tie between the value workers contribute to their employer’s revenue and their compensation, including noncompete agreements, opacity around salaries and company performance and market concentration.

Beyond that, Mr. Rosenfeld makes the provocative contention that measuring most individual workers’ performance is fruitless. “For many jobs today, the whole effort to measure marginal productivity is misguided — not because the right tools haven’t been developed, but because there is no way to disentangle the productivity of one worker from that of others in the organization,” he writes.

He argues that even when it’s possible to tie individual performance to revenue, as with salespeople and lawyers, performance-based pay has deep flaws, such as generating cutthroat competition between colleagues.

If performance-based compensation is so problematic, what’s the alternative? One possibility is to link pay to the performance of the whole company. Profit-sharing programs, where companies give a percentage of earnings to employees, were common in the United States before the 1980s, but have mostly disappeared since.

Mr. Rosenfeld also suggests an approach unlikely to have fans among younger workers: pay based on seniority. It strips managers of their ability to play favorites, diminishes the impact of bias and rewards experience. “Seniority-based pay ensures we’re paid for our improvement,” Mr. Rosenfeld argues.

has historically supported raising the minimum wage to $15. And even that level falls short of providing workers with income sufficient to cover basic expenses in many parts of the country.

As Walmart was reminded very clearly, investors aren’t necessarily on the same page as the general public when it comes to better wages. That’s shortsighted. Researchers including Zeynep Ton, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, have shown that companies can be just as profitable when they pay higher wages, thanks to benefits such as better quality goods and services and lower staff turnover. Also, when workers struggle to make ends meet, it holds back the economy because they consume less.

On top of that, fair pay is a critical foundation for a fair society. Now is a good time for resetting assumptions about why we’re paid what we’re paid, and how compensation is determined. New approaches exist for those who are open to them.

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