Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10,000 Left Shoes

Who would ever want to have 10,000 left shoes?

Well, here is a story that has stuck in my head for many years. I may be off on the specifics but I believe the just of it is true. And, if not, it could have happened or, in storytelling parlance, it’s plausible.

As I recall, in the mid 1960’s in Israel I read in the paper that a shipment of 10,000 left shoes had arrived in the port of Haifa from Italy. At the time, custom duty rates in Israel were extremely high, especially on such luxury imports. So the importer did not claim the shoes. Besides, what would he do with 10,000 left shoes? Stuck with this load, the custom office did what most custom agencies do with abandoned stuff, it auctioned it off. But no one had any use for 10,000 left shoes so no one made any bid. Well, eventually the original importer made a very low bid and the custom office was happy to get rid of the shoes that took space in its warehouse. So the importer got his 10,000 left shoes practically paying no duty.

A month or two later a shipment of 10,000 right shoes arrived in the port of Haifa and the same importer did not claim them because he did not want to pay the duty…

Surely, you have figured out by now the rest of the story.

Where is the math in this story?

It has to do with sets and how sets can be split, added up and rearranged. A pair of shoes is a set, a very useful set. It can be sold. 10,000 pairs is a set of 10,000 such useful sets. Splitting these pairs into 10,000 left shoes and 10,000 right shoes generates 2 sets containing 10,000 of useless shoes, which no one wants to buy. But then, whoever has both sets can recombine them to form the original 10,000 sets of sellable pairs of shoes.

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