How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class Hot
John Hope Bryant, successful self-made businessman and founder of the nonprofit Operation HOPE, says business and political leaders are ignoring the one force that could truly re-energize the stalled American economy: the poor. If we give poor communities the right tools, policies, and inspiration, he argues, they will be able to lift themselves up into the middle class and become a new generation of customers and entrepreneurs.
Raised in poverty-stricken, gang-infested South Central Los Angeles, Bryant saw firsthand how our institutions have abandoned the poor. He details how business loans, home loans, and financial investments have vanished from their communities. After decades of deprivation, the poor lack bank accounts, decent credit scores, and any real firsthand experience of how a healthy free enterprise system functions.
Bryant radically redefines the meaning of poverty and wealth. (It’s not just a question of finances; it’s values too.) He exposes why attempts to aid the poor so far have fallen short and offers a way forward: the HOPE Plan, a series of straightforward, actionable steps to build financial literacy and expand opportunity so that the poor can join the middle class.
Fully 70 percent of the American economy is driven by consumer spending, but more and more people have too much month at the end of their money. John Hope Bryant aspires to “expand the philosophy of free enterprise to include all of God’s children” and create a thriving economy that works not just for the 1 percent or even the 99 percent but for the 100 percent. This is a free enterprise approach to solving the problem of poverty and raising up a new America.
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John Hope Bryant observes that life is about aspiration and opportunity, but that without opportunity you lose hope; and the most dangerous person in the world is a person without hope. Although this observation focused on the poor and disenfranchised in America's inner cities and in rural America, the statements can equally apply around the world. We have become acutely aware of the enormous divide between the top10% of the world’s population that owns 86% of its wealth, and the almost 50% of the population living in poverty. Poverty is not limited to one ethnic group nor to inner cities; it cuts across all demographics and there are more poor whites than any other group. We have begun to demand accountability from a financial and corporate system whose only objective is to generate more and more profits for the few, because this model is unsustainable, is already imploding and will only get worse.
The cycle of poverty is enforced and perpetuated by a broken system where money and credit have fled to the suburbs, and loan sharks fill the vacuum; industry has decamped abroad and the only income options to escape the ghetto appear to young people to be sports, music, or dealing drugs. Positive role models and mentors are few and far between.
On the bright side, Bryant points out that the intelligence and an entrepreneurial spirit that are now directed into gangs and criminal activities, are available to be channeled into positive directions. Having been a successful entrepreneur, he is on a mission to provide a framework to enable the poor to climb up the ladder to a sustainable middle class that is good for them and good for the country. He also points out that wealth is as much a subjective state of the spirit as it is a reflection of income. That is why giving people hope and dignity are the highest priorities.
He has built an infrastructure of educational programs to teach financial literacy; brought branches of financial institutions back to the inner-cities to enable residents to rejoin the US economy; and he has provided crowd-funding forums wherein young people are exposed to entrepreneurial thinking and given access to mentors to support them in starting their own small businesses.
One could argue that it takes a recognized leader and entrepreneur like Bryant to attract high profile partners and manifest such a structure for real change, and the many thousands of lives he has improved already are extremely encouraging. One can only hope, however, that the example he has provided will serve as a template and beta test for rolling out across the country, as he hopes. Hope is indeed his middle name.