Something that The Guardian’s subeditors – come along now, none of us expect the people who write for the paper to grasp anything economic like this – don’t manage. A sunk cost is the opposite of what it is being used as here:
When I’m on my deathbed, surrounded by people I love, I know the regrets that will flash through my mind. I’ll regret trying to grow my hair out as a teenager. I’ll regret spending so much time on dishwasher comparison websites. But most of all – and I guarantee that this will happen – I will regret sticking with Westworld.
Because I am still watching Westworld. Even though it is airless and overblown. Even though it is 75% smugger than it needs to be. Even though I don’t care a jot about any of its characters or mysteries. Even though the entire series annoys the ever-living hell out of me. I am still there, watching the bloody thing out of a sense of grimly resigned duty. Because, hey, I’ve watched this much so far. Westworld has become a sunk cost. There is no getting out of it now.
He’s using “sunk cost” to mean I’ve invested this much so far therefore I’ll have to continue.
Which is entirely the opposite of what a sunk cost is. The correct meaning being that what I’ve spent so far, what I can never recover no matter what I do, is irrelevant to any decision I might make about continuing or not. This is true whatever we’re talking about. That I’ve pissed away hours of my life on crap TV is irrelevant to whether I should watch more crap TV. That I’ve blown billions of taxpayer money is an irrelevance to whether I should splurge more.
The decision is about whether the marginal spending, the more I’m going to do of either time or money, is worth what I will get from that further investment. What I’ve already wasted just doesn’t come into it – it’s a sunk cost.
OK, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on The Guardian about this. After all, no politician grasps it either, do they?