Thus read the headline on today’s Chicago Sun-Times. As I walked past the news box and scanned it, I could only say “Duuuuh.” Most people’s pay is not linked to success at whatever their jobs require them to accomplish. Harvard Business School does studies on this issue every so often. The last one I recall reading about, which was looking only at salary levels for its own graduates, controlled for all the factors it could measure, and finally concluded that the crucial variable was physical height. People who have ever been unemployed for more than a few months will have lower-than-average salaries for the rest of their working lives, regardless of how well they do their jobs. People who have been notably underpaid at any stage in their work history (women, for instance) will go on being underpaid for the rest of their working lives, because most employers calibrate a worker’s pay based on his/her previous pay.
Well, okay, that probably wasn’t what the headline really meant. I took a look at the article over lunch, and it really defined “success” in terms of the test results of the students. (Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether student test results are a valid measure of teacher competence and dedication.) How, one may ask, is this different from Wall Street bonuses, which fall upon the competent and the incompetent, those who lead their companies into success and failure, with equal frequency?
I suppose it’s different because the Wall Street managers don’t have a union, and have to accomplish this remarkable feat of economic ledgerdemain one at a time, a tribute to the spirit of American individualism. Ain’t free enterprise grand?