John Oliver tackles income inequality on ‘Last Week Tonight’


Are you someone who pays for HBO or gets it through, ahem, other means? How you answer that question will say a lot about where you fall on the debate about income inequality. Or, at least, that’s what John Oliver says in the warm-up to his extended look at America’s wealth gap on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver’s new HBO show, which is four months into its run, has found its groove by picking a sprawling, complicated topic each week and allowing Oliver to go on an extended riff on it for the second half of the show. Previous subjects have included the corruption of FIFA and the World Cup and net neutrality.

For his illuminating explanation of exactly how wide the gap between the haves and the have nots is, Oliver took time, as always, to point out the many ways in which cable news fails to properly inform its audience as to the actual facts of the topics up for debate. In the case of income inequality, he points out the facts behind the federal estate tax, also called the “death tax” by some politicians.


Unfortunately, as Oliver points out, the controversial nature of income inequality has made it one of those topics most politicians would rather not bring up at all, just like “Japanese internment camps or that time we gave Roberto Benigni an Academy Award.”

Contributing to the gap is legislation that tends to favor the top 1% at the expense of the poorest. And this kind of thing is allowed to continue in a democracy because Americans all feel that one day they’re going to win the income lottery and join that hallowed 1%.

But to illustrate the grim reality of that situation, Oliver held two lotteries, called “America Ball.” The draw for people with inherited wealth, which asked entrants to choose a number between 1 and 3 and then drew two balls.

The drawing for the poorest? It’s a broken down ball machine guarded by an unsmiling slab of man named Tank. And no matter how long the odds are, it really doesn’t matter because there is no drawing -- the machine is broken for the third week in a row.

“This is depressing,” Oliver said before swiftly directing everyone’s attention back to the drawing for the rich.

“Don’t worry, poor people,” he said. “If you’re getting sad, you’re just thinking of this the wrong way.”


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