This should probably be more properly titled “The Mystery of the Missing Dollar and the Language of Politics.” A family member called me last night with the old math puzzle about the three men splitting the cost of a hotel room for the night. As the puzzle goes, three men pay $27, $9 each, towards a hotel room for the night. After the guests go up to their room the desk clerk realizes he’s charged them too much and sends the bellboy up with $5, the amount of the overcharge, to return to the men. The bellboy, believing he is underpaid, pockets $2 on his way up, and gives the men back $3, $1 each. So the men have paid $24 (3 times $8 each) plus the $2 in the bellboy’s pocketed, which is $26. Where is the missing dollar, as the original price of the room was $27?
Obviously the flaw is in the phrase, “plus the $2 in the bellboy’s pocketed.” The $2 in the bellboy’s pocket is already part of the $24 that the three men paid altogether, so it would be nonsensical to add it to anything. The men paid $24, $22 of which made it to the hotel till, and $2 of which ended up in the bellboy’s pocket. It is a good example, however, of an exploit vulnerability we seem to have, a vulnerability which the politicians are quite adept at employing to get us to believe anything. All it takes is for them to keep talking, presenting numbers and “facts” in a tone of voice or format that would lead a person to believe that they know what they’re talking about, and we nod our heads, and accept it.