The Income Inequality Oath: First, Do No Harm

Chuck Sheketoff

Often I am asked, “What can we do to address income inequality?”

There are a number of good ideas for confronting income inequality, which now stands at historic highs.

In my view the first thing to do is to “do no harm.” Don’t enact policies that will exacerbate the problem. This is particularly true in the area of tax policy, where decades of tax cuts and subsidies favoring the well-off have contributed significantly to rising income inequality.

In every Oregon legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle bring forth proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy outright or provide some new tax subsidy for the rich. For example, a seemingly perennial effort — fortunately rebuffed thus far — is to give favored tax status to capital gains income.

Capital gains income is income derived from the profitable sale of stocks, bonds, real estate and other capital assets.

A cut in the income tax on capital gains would not just be a tax cut for the rich; it would be a tax cut for the very rich. Indeed, the wealthiest 1 out of every 1000 Oregonians (the top one-tenth of the wealthiest 1 percent) reap about half of all capital gains income.

So what can you do to help confront income inequality in Oregon?

With candidates holding fundraising and campaign recruitment meetings as the fall election season approaches, it’s a good time to engage them. Ask candidates whether they will pledge not to exacerbate inequality. Ask them to take the income inequality oath to do no harm. Ask them to promise not to cut taxes on the already well-off, be it by cutting the income tax on capital gains or any other means.

Bring this capital gains infographic (JPG; a PDF version is here) to meetings with candidates and pass it on to your friends and neighbors via email and social media and ask them to join you in calling on candidates to take the income inequality oath to do no harm.

Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at

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