There was once a slave born in Phrygia in Asia Minor, named Aesop. He wasn't particularly handsome or strong, but he had a particularly remarkable wit. One day, when the caravan and its slaves were leaving for Ephesus, the slave driver divided the burdens into rather unequal shares, and let each slave pick his. Aesop picked the heaviest burden of them all, a large bread basket, about twice as heavy as anything else there. The other slaves called him a fool for it, but Aesop knew that he'd have the last laugh. For, you see, the bread was used to feed the slaves and by the end of the very first day, Aesop had nothing to carry except an empty basket.
He was pretty proud of its wit.
On the third day, the team leader... err... slave driver called a meeting and announced that the caravan owner wasn't satisfied with their progress, and they'd be late in reaching their goal (Ephesus) at this rate. So the tasks would have to be re-evaluated, to match each team member's strengths.
Aesop was given half of Wally's share, who was already limping under the load of four papyrus scrolls, about half a pound each, with prayers for the Temple of Aphrodite in Ephesus. So two of them were dumped into Aesop's empty basket. "Well, that's still not too bad," thought Aesop.
The next day, a couple more slaves complained that they can't keep up the pace, and Aesop got half of their share too. One more day, and he was back to his original load. When trying to complain to the slave driver, Aesop was reminded that he's already shown off his strength, and it's only normal to use each resource to its fullest. As a consolation, he was also given a few canned motivational slogans, like "There's no I in team", which only managed to insult Aesop's intellect.
By the end of the week, Aesop was not just tired, but also hungry. All the energy for carrying that heavy basket had to come from somewhere, and he was already at the limit of his body's reserves. Aesop went to ask the slave driver for a raise in his rations, but was told he should be thankful to still have this job.
"We could use slaves from India instead of you!," he was told, "They carry twice the load for half the rations."
"So what are you going to do, then? Free me?"
"Well, no," said the slave driver, "you're still a slave, you still have to work for your bread one way or another. And you've signed a non-compete clause, so you're not going to work for a caravan any time soon. But we could sell you to a tin mine or to an asbestos weaving shop. I hear they have a life expectancy shorter than a mouse in the temple of Bastet in Bubastis."
Aesop doubted that anyone can carry twice the load for half the rations, but went back to hauling the basket. By the time they reached Ephesus, Aesop was looking disturbingly like a walking skeleton, but they made it in time. The caravan owner and the slave driver gave themselves a bonus for the good job, while the slaves were told again that they should be happy to still have their jobs. Still, they had the rest of the day off.
By the start of the next day, the caravan was assembled to leave again for the next town, this time a nearby town. While the others got their loads, Aesop was taken aside and told the good news that for his performance on this project, he's getting a raise of half a slice of bread a day. Then he was given a large empty sack and a shovel and told to fill it with sand. That would be his load for this trip.
"You've got to be kidding!" said Aesop, "Do they really need sand over there?"
"Well, no, not really," answered the slave driver, "See, they're on a beach anyway. But we'll only make the big trip to Ephesus again next year, and I have to somehow justify keeping the team until then. Otherwise the corporate rules say I'd have to get rid of you here, and get someone else next year. So we'll have to make up some work, so you can still get paid. Well, or at least fed."
Aesop rolled that around a bit in his head, but somehow "at least I get fed" failed to reduce the sting of the fact that he was doing something purely useless and fake.
"Can I at least fill it with leaves or grass, then? I mean, it's not like anyone actually needs the sand."
"I'd love to let you do that," shrugged the slave driver, "but, see, we're paid by the kilo. Plus, I couldn't justify keeping someone with your abilities around, if you'd actually have less workload than someone cheaper."
A couple of years go by like that, and Aesop is starting to look pretty muscular by now, if rather thin. He's even up to two extra slices of bread per day, which isn't bad by slave standards. Or wouldn't be if the workload hadn't doubled in the meantime too.
The team is assembling in Ephesus to pick their burdens, and Aesop is already reaching for his usual shovel and the two empty sacks. As I was saying, the load had increased in the meantime. As he's picking the shovel up, the slave driver approaches Aesop. He's accompanied by two hoplites from the caravan's guard.
"I'm sorry, Aesop, but I'm affraid I'll have to let you go. Sorry. Rest assured it's nothing personal, it's just business."
"You mean, as in, go free?" a broad hopeful grin widens on Aesop's face.
"Well, no," the slave driver shakes his head, "you're still a slave, you still have to work for your bread, and we still have a duty to make the most money out of you one way or another. But we sold you to some guys from Etruria who needed a gladiator. When they saw your muscles, it was an easy sell. Said something about needing a match for some slave from Gaul called 'The Ripper.' Our security people here will accompany you out."
"But... why?" stutters a shocked Aesop. "Have I not been your best slave? Have I not hauled loads that nobody except a mule or Hercules himself could have hauled?"
"Try to understand, Aesop, it really is just business." answers the slave driver. "You also eat more than any other slave, and we have a fiduciary duty to make money for the shareholders. It adds up, and the market is tough. We don't make as much per transport. Management has already promised to reduce costs by firing the most expensive personnel and replace them with cheaper slaves from India. Which reminds me, before you leave, show that new Indian guy where you usually get sand from."