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Our main story tonight is income inequality. A good way to figure out which side of it you're on is whether you're currently paying for HBO or stealing it. Last December, some of you laughed a little too hard at that. Last December, the President made it clear that income inequality was going to be a big priority.

The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe. I believe this is the defining challenge of our time.

Yes, the defining challenge of our time. Well, one of the two defining challenges of our time, the other being Candy Crush level 97. That is hard. I've got a lollipop hammer, and I still can't The point is that the President said the word inequality 26 times in that speech, which everyone took to mean one thing.

Income inequality is going to be the thrust, one of the major themes in 2016.

Members of the Senate Democratic Leadership team, that's Harry Reid on Dem, are clearly going after this income inequality issue.

For Democrats, it's an all out assault on the issue of income inequality.

And all out assault. You better watch your ass, income inequality, because you're about to get violently ameliorated. Or you would have been if they hadn't almost immediately backed down.

A new article says President Obama appears to be shifting strategy on tackling income inequality. The Washington Post reveals Democrats are split on the issue, bidding President Obama to shift talk away from the subject.

So basically, income inequality has become just another topic of conversation we prefer to avoid in America, like Japanese interment camps or that time that we gave Roberto Benigni an Academy Award, you know, national tragedies, equally wrong. But there is a key reason why no politician wants to talk about it. And that's because every time someone tries to, this happens.

Is President Obama engaging in class warfare?

Class warfare.

Class warfare.

The politics of class warfare.

Trying to drive a class warfare argument.

Use that #class warfare.

Okay. Okay. That all sounds silly, but the phrase class warfare is so toxic, the President actually had to stop talking about the thing he describes as a fundamental threat to the American dream. And this was so predictable that three years ago, he actually gathered a group of historians and told them, "What you could do for me is to help find a way to discuss the issues of inequality in our society without being accused of class warfare." To which they presumably said, "Yeah, we can't really help you with that, although we can tell you what Warren G. Harding named his penis. It's not what you're thinking."

But just because politicians can't talk about income inequality doesn't mean we shouldn't. And before we do, let me just say no one is arguing for complete, perfect equality. We are not going to live in a world where we pretend that all Baldwins are equally talented. I mean look, there's Billy, and there's everyone else. That's a fact. Inequality is a bit like cinnamon. You definitely want to have a little of it to spice life up a bit, but too much of it can be very dangerous. And make no mistake, we are at cinnamon dangerous levels right now.

The wealth gap is getting worse. A new analysis shows the richest Americans, the top 1%, made nearly 20% of all the available income in America last year. That's the widest income gap since the roaring '20s.

Okay. Nothing ominous there then. The roaring '20s were famously the party that never ended. That's what made the '30s so great, just more '20s. And the thing is income inequality affects everyone. It can actually hinder overall growth. Just to be clear, income inequality is by no means just an American problem. Globalization and technology means that the gap is rising all over the developed world. It's just rising faster here. In fact, in the United States, the income ratio between our richest and poorest 10% is now 16 to 1. At this point, the rich are just running up the score. If our economy was a little league game, someone would have called it by now.

But what sets America apart is that in this time we have actually introduced policies proportionately benefiting the wealthy, like cutting income tax and capitals gains tax rates in half as well as that weird tax rebates for orgies with fancy Eyes Wide Shut masks. The password is fidelio. You would think in a democracy, policies that benefit very few people at the expense of very many would not be able to succeed, but they have. And I think the reason for that may lie somewhere in America's greatest quality, optimism. It's basically in how susceptible Americans are to this.

We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We hare a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and people who will make it.

Yes. I mean no, no. Hold on. That sounds great. The problem is it makes no sense economically, mathematically or even grammatically. And yet, we believe him. We believe him. And there's a poll that I think explains why. A few months ago, PewResearch revealed that 65% of Americans believe that the wealth gap is increasing, and 60% believe our system unfairly favors the wealthy. But, and here's the key, 60% also believe that most people who work hard enough can make it. Or in other words, "Yup, I can clearly see this game is rigged, which is what's going to make it so sweet when I win this thing, woo!"

And it's good. That's a good thing. That optimism is one of the things I love the most about this country. I love that you line up around the block for TV talent shows, for talents you objectively don't have. And everyone feels bad when a person is inevitably and revealingly British does this to you.

It sounded like two three-year-olds who got flu trying to sing.

I didn't find it funny. And I like to laugh, and that wasn't funny to me.

I don't know what that style was. It started off like bad food poisoning.

Without any doubt, the worst act I've probably ever seen.

You may want to be [beep] smart and start acting like an arrogant [beep]. Your mashed potatoes are bland.

Wow. Wow. Hold on. A British person just told you your mashed potatoes were bland. That has got to hurt. The reason a British person has to do that is that we're raised in a rigid class system where we have all hope beaten out of us. And your optimism is overwhelmingly positive except when it leads you to act against your own best interests.

Look at the federal estate tax. That's the tax that gets paid on inherited wealth. It helps to limit the terrible possibility of a permanent landed gentry, the idea that a house can be passed down through the generations until some dipshit blows the fortune on a Canadian railway company. You [beep] moron! How could you do that, Lord Grantham, when the family was counting on you? How could you? And yet, the estate tax here is routinely on the verge of being abolished. Politicians call it the death tax and get applause for saying things like this.

My opinion is we have to kill the death tax. You paid for that farm once. You don't have to pay for it again.

Except it's almost impossible that the farmer would ever have to do that. The federal estate tax does not apply to 99.4% of all farm estates. It also doesn't apply to 99.86% of anyone's estates. Basically, if you're not comfortable calling your accumulation of shit an estate, the estate tax probably doesn't [beep] apply to you. And yet, the thing is a man worth a quarter of $1 billion gets applause by saying, "Let's get rid of it."

Under current federal law, heirs don't have to pay taxes on the first $5.2 million that you leave them, meaning that you and your wife can leave your kid more than $10 million tax free. And relax. That is more than enough to turn Chansey into the world's biggest piece of shit. Fuck you, Chansey. No 16-year-old has a destination birthday party. The tax on estates over $5 million applies to almost nobody. But one reason it's constantly threatened is that people assume it will one day apply to them.

I don't have a $5 million estate. I'd like to someday. But if I work on my life and if I pay my taxes on my income and then I die and I want to pass on what would be great if it were a $5 million estate to my kids, why should I pay the government again?

But you won't be paying it. You'll be done. In fact, this is the practical embodiment of everything you want. This is the government literally taking your money over your dead body. And also, let's be clear. The existence of an estate tax has not prevented Americans from passing on a fuckload of wealth. Of the billionaires on the Forbes 400, 71 inherited their fortune and another 56 inherited at least a portion of it. That's nearly 1/3 of the list. And our habit of handing money down from generation of generation perpetuates another disparity, perhaps explaining why of the Forbes 400, only 0.25% are African American. And to answer your question, yes, it's Oprah. Oprah is the person. You were right. Good guess. Good guess.

America now has a system where wealth is essentially dispersed as a lottery of birth. And maybe the reason we seem to accept that is that even though we know the odds are stacked against us, we all think we're going to win the lottery. Experts even appear on TV, advising us how to handle our future winnings.

I think the first thing should be to create a plan.

Set up a trust, probably hire a couple of security guards.

Do you take the lump sum payment or the 29-year annuity payment over time?

I would take the onetime cash, John, because it allows you to do a whole bunch of things that you might want to do in your life. If you win that kind of money and you still have young children, make sure you put it in a trust.

Oh, absolutely, because it is never too early to start protecting your imaginary lottery winnings from crippling estate taxes. That's crazy. You might as well do an eight-minute segment on how to handle being attacked by a shark while scoring the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl or things to say on your third date with Beyonce. It would be great. That would be great. There's a chance. Technically, there's a chance. And watch how depressed we get by useful, practical advice.

Would you tell people, "Maybe take your $5 you're going to spend on the jackpot and put it elsewhere."

If you can invest that money 20, 30 years down the road, that is going to be a much better -- there'd be much better odds of having a secure retirement than hoping on the lottery.

It's not nearly as fantasy though.

No, it's not.

So much more practical.

Please. Please don't mess up this financial segment with practical advice. We're dream weavers here at News Team 12. Take that shit over to News Team 5. Look, look, the whole point is if American wealth is a lottery, we are increasingly playing two different games. In fact, I'll show you. Who wants to play American Ball?

Okay. As always, we have two drawings. First up, the draw for people with inherited wealth. You should all have a ticket at home with a number between one and three on it. So let's pick two balls. Let's pick two balls. Fire it up. Here we go. Three, the first number is three. Let's pick another ball. One. Congratulations to almost everyone at home. Okay. That was fun. That was fun.

Okay. So now, the lottery for those who were born poor. Okay. Tank. Hello to all of you watching at home or through a Best Buy window. You should all have a card with a number between one and 3.5 million on it. And you've probably noticed that a disproportionate percentage of these balls are black and brown. Ignore that. It's illustrative of nothing. I can't stress that enough. Isn't that right, Tank? Yeha, that's right. Yeah.

Now as you can see, for the third consecutive week, this machine is still broken. So I can't currently get a ball out of there for you, but let's all agree that technically, you did all have the hypothetical chance to win. So this is depressing. Hey, remember how much fun we were having over there. Let's go back over. There's still a ball in there. Let's get that last ball out of there. Just one more. Oh, number two, you're all winners, all of you. You can't lost. The system works.

And don't worry, poor people. If you're getting sad, you're just thinking of this the wrong way. Remember, when it comes to the wealth lottery, America is a nation of winners and soon-to winners. Yes!

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Video from “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”

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