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The Economist's Sisyphean Task

Sean Vivier--pronounced like Vivian, but with an R--is a web app developer from central Connecticut who moonlights as a ballroom dance instructor and a writer of science fiction and fantasy. He is not a workaholic. He can stop working any time he likes. You can find his work in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. Learn more at seanvivier.com.

Marisol Prieto watched the boulder yet again slip and fall from its perch. She sighed. "This has no utility."
King Sisyphus eyed her with disdain and defensive ego. "I almost got it that time. I'll get it this time."
He began the long walk down the mountain, and Marisol followed in exasperation. "That's the sunk cost fallacy. You convince yourself that since you've spent so much time in pursuit of a goal, you have to continue to make it worth it. But it might well be a lost cause, and you'll not only waste your previous time, you'll waste time in the future. All this when instead you could do something productive."
"Do not presume to lecture me, woman." The king sneered at her. "I do not waste my time. You can very well see that I'm productive. Do I not labor?"
"You may labor, but it's not productive labor. It's not work that is the end goal of an economy. Work is a means toward the end goal of prosperity."
"And who are you to say such things to a king? Do you think yourself an oracle?"
"No. A PhD in Economics. I know what I'm talking about."
He huffed and he continued down the mountain. Marisol continued alongside and a bit behind his longer and more assured strides, all while she racked her brain for a better way to express herself.
"Look at it like this. There are those who suggest we guarantee jobs with public work projects that employ people to dig and fill holes. But these do not accomplish anything that builds wealth or creates prosperity. Instead, those public works that create lasting infrastructure are the ones that bring the greatest economic benefit. Do you understand? This task is digging and filling the same holes. You would be better--you would be so much happier!--to create something that lasts instead."
Sisyphus arched his back and flexed his fist. "I have made a commitment. I will see it to the end."
"Look. I've seen this so often." Her heels slowed her, so she took them from her feet to follow in stockings, on surer footing. "People begin their careers with one idea. They fixate on it, even if they don't excel at it, even if it brings few rewards. They stay because they tell themselves it's better to stay the course, no matter what. Just like you. But in the end, they're all happier and far more successful when they abandon the original career and find another. Do you understand what I'm saying? This doesn't have to be what you do!"
"And who am I?" Sisyphus demanded, "if I am not the man who rolls this boulder to the top of this mountain?"
Marisol opened her mouth, frowned, and closed it. Economics did not study self-definition, only possibility and efficiency.
Sisyphus smirked to see her without an answer, and he pressed his body again to the boulder at the foot of the mountain. His muscles strained, and the boulder rose by inches.
Marisol truly did not understand. This had to be a form of madness. Why did people not abandon such fruitless tasks that only frustrated them to no end? Even without a degree in economics, they should understand the futility of such needless struggle.
And so, yet again in that timeless place, as she had done now so many times that she had lost count, she stood by the king's side and she tried to convince him to follow his own rational self-interests.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Author Comments

This began with the idea that Sisyphus is guilty of a sunk cost fallacy, and it ballooned from there. Somehow, it began to echo my career change from teacher to coder. Thanks, subconscious.

- Sean Vivier
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