What does “income inequality” mean to Americans today? To president Barack Obama, it’s “the defining challenge of our time.” To Obama’s opponents, it’s inciting ”class warfare.”
As British comedian John Oliver told his viewers recently: “A good way to figure out which side of it you’re on is whether you’re currently paying for HBO or stealing it.”
Oliver, who hosts the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” yesterday skewered American politicians and voters for misrepresenting—and misunderstanding—this issue of haves and have-nots. Lamenting how quickly Democrats went from wanting to tackle the topic to finding themselves “split” on the issue, Oliver said wealth disparity has become “just another topic of conversation we prefer to avoid in America—like Japanese interment camps.”
The top 1% of America’s earners took in 20% of the country’s total income in 2012, and a small sliver of the 1% continues to run away with bigger and bigger portions of that.
“You would think,” said Oliver, that “in a democracy, policies that benefit very few at the expense of very many would not be able to succeed, but they have.” We have good old-fashioned American optimism to thank for that, he thinks. According to Pew Research polls from earlier this year, most people believe the system is rigged, but just as many also believe they will somehow end up beating it. And so, discussions about income inequality in America are often dominated by fantasy. As summed up by Oliver: “It is never too early to start protecting your imaginary lottery winnings from crippling estate taxes!”