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John Oliver has just performed the kindest – and most genius – gesture ever


As one YouTube commenter puts it: what did we do to deserve John Oliver?

And no, we're not talking in the same way as if we were referring to Donald Trump. No, this is the polar opposite quality of man.

Oliver, host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, performed the single biggest giveaway in television history on Sunday, when he bought - and then forgave - almost $15m of US medical debt. It beats the previous record held by Oprah Winfrey when, in 2004, she gave away a car to every member of her studio audience - worth a total of $8m.

But, as well as being almost double that amount, this was a far smarter and more meaningful giveaway, as it served a dual purpose of highlighting the insanely dubious nature of the American debt-buying industry.

The giveaway came after a 20 minute segment on the show which focused on debt collectors, who buy debt from banks for a small number of cents per dollar, then are allowed to try and claim it using aggressive tactics, often even when the debt is not actually owed any more.

Oliver explained: “Once the company has bought your debt, whether the information is accurate or not, they are going to try to collect on it... Debt-buying is a grimy business and badly needs more oversight, because as it stands any idiot can get into it. And I can prove that to you because I am an idiot and we started a debt-buying company, and it was disturbingly easy.” 

He described how his show had paid $50 to set up a debt-acquisition company in Mississippi known as CARP. It was soon offered a portfolio of medical debt worth $14,922,261.76 at a cost of just under half a center per dollar - under $60,000. It was immediately given a list of names, addresses and social security numbers of nearly 9,000 people who owed the debt - and it could have been free to pursue those people for the money.

However, Oliver decided instead to write it off, saving these people from worrying about the colossal debt than, undoubtedly, many of them had run up without any choice in the matter, and as a consequence of the bad luck of being sick.

The practice is not new - a charity named Rolling Jubilee paid $400,000 to purchase and forgive almost $15m of personal debt ($13.5m of it medical) in 2013, but this will give the whole concept much-needed publicity.

Thomas Gokey, one of the organisers of Rolling Jubilee, explained: “The Rolling Jubilee doesn’t actually solve the problem. The Rolling Jubilee is a tactic and a valuable one because it exposes how debt operates. It punches a hole through the morality of debt, through this idea that you owe X amount of dollars that the 1% says you owe. In reality, that debt is worth significantly less. The 1% is selling it to each other at bargain-based prices. You don’t actually owe that.”

Watch the clip above, it's truly marvellous.

[via Guardian]