How A New System of Sustainable Confidence in Ourselves, Financial Literacy Empowerment, Fiscal Transparency, and Love Leadership in a Fear-Based World, Can Make a Business Case for the New Global Economic Order
By John Hope Bryant
Founder and Chairman, Operation HOPE
Vice Chairman, U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy and
Chairman, President's Council Committee on the Under-Served
The current global economic crisis is not so much a recession as a global hard reboot. In other words, the economy will come back, but not in the form that it once was. The "how," and in some respects the "what" here, is in large measure going to be up to us. Our new U.S. President, Barack Obama, has already begun doing his part; meaning framing the issues of the day, drawing the country together to deal squarely with the challenges that lie ahead, while simultaneously setting a positive new tone for the future. This said, we will need much more than good feelings, a little stimulus and optimism to get us through this mess. Pr esident Obama, as intelligent, caring and committed as he has presented himself, cannot make your mortgage payment nor raise your children. Nor should he (or our government). You will have to do that.
In coming weeks I will outline my vision for the future and a way forward, beyond the current crisis, but let's start where we stand, and lead with action.
A Bold American Vision, Part I
Over the past two weekends, I was honored to be interviewed by Fredericka Whitfield and Don Lemon on CNN, first around the Obama Administration's new Housing Recovery Plan and around the relative level of African-American optimism, in the midst of this crisis. These two interview bookends are a good place to begin this discussion.
1. A structured solution to the banking crisis.
Very much like I have outlined on my Blog after the first interview, the Obama plan is a solid start but we must quickly move beyond make-sense tactical responses that only stem the current problem, to a grand strategy that is as big as the core problem itself. In short, I believe that the banking crisis and the housing crisis are directly connected and both need to be addressed together and comprehensively. This is a problem that, quoting former President Clinton, begs for "a beginning, middle, and an end." Investors and the consumer public need their confidence in banking restored, and since no economist worth their salt can envision an overall economic recovery that is not at least in part led by a banking recovery, I recommend we look at a government "Bad B ank" structure, with bad bank assets not paid for with additional taxpayer-funded cash, but rather with what I refer to as "structured (government) Good Will." Once the bad assets have been removed and bank capital ratios stabilized, banking regulators should be able to issue a "safe and sound" determination for banks that will signal to markets, investors and Harry and Mary Depositor that "the floor of this crisis has been found," everything is fine once again, and the banking sector is again open for business. In other words, the real issue is a restoration of confidence.
Done right, this approach might actually create what the American economy really needs right now, which is an exit strategy for this crisis that is not focused on more government deficit spending, but rather new, value-added entrepreneurial "opportunity," or what I call the "original power of the idea." In addition, with this approach and with the government serving as the "patient investor," the taxpayer might actually earn a premium financial return on purportedly toxic assets over time. You can read my Blog piece, where I spell this approach out in more detail, if you or your local congressional representative are interested.
2. Resiliency and borrowed optimism.
Last week a PEW Study came out that (shocking to some) concluded that amongst all ethnic groups, Whites were the least optimistic about the future, and African-Americans the most optimistic. Don Lemon of CNN invited me to come on and share my view about this phenomenon, which for me was no phenomenon at all. The simple fact is that "African-Americans have been doing so much, with so little, for so long, we can almost do anything with nothing." And since even before the days of Jim Crow, we have had to find other things to inspire us, and to find value and values in things other than material wealth, relative mainstream prosperity or the benefits of biological privilege. Things were just not fair and had not been for some time for the majority of African-Americans, and we simply needed to get over it. Thus our movement towards faith – and faith is precisely what one needs these days . If you have your faith in your stock portfolio, or if your value and pleasure was locked up exclusively in material prosperity or climbing the corporate ladder, these days you might not be such a happy camper. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that the (civil rights) movement was about "saving black men's bodies and white men's souls." In other words, we were all in this together. Such is the case today. Maybe this is actually a teachable moment, when the African-American community, speaking to its deep African roots, might actually have a lesson of resiliency and optimism that the world can learn from. At the end of the day, the goal is not prosperity or faith, but prosperity and faith. Check out the CNN piece I did with Don Lemon here.
It is against this backdrop that I now find myself here in mother South Africa, where Operation HOPE is on-the-ground teaching dignity, financial literacy and entrepreneurship to 50,000 youth and women, and where I will speak later this week at the Nelson Mandela Promise of Leadership Conference. As I prepare to speak, I am reminded of that African proverb, "Ubuntu," meaning "I am because you are". We desperately need some "Ubuntu" in our lives these days.
3. A new civil right, and the first global silver right; financial literacy for all.
In the 20th century, the issue around the world was democracy, with Dr. King marching in the southern states, Nelson Mandela marching in South Africa, and Gandhi before them marching for justice in India. The issue was democracy, and without the vote you were a slave. Today, in the 21st century, the issue is global economics, and without an understanding of the language of money (financial literacy), and a bank account, you are still a slave. Today financial literacy is a global civil rights issue, and the first 21st century silver right.
Post-crisis, there will be more regulation around predatory lending, but greed has been with us since the beginning of time and, unfortunately, there will probably never be mortgage police, or consumer loan police protecting you and your family, so you must become you and your family's best protection against predatory lenders, and avoid decisions not in your own best interest. That is nothing less than a massive undertaking of financial literacy empowerment, or what I call financial literacy 3.0. In future writings I will make the case for financial literacy as a "business case," but today I want to commend two members of Congress for taking positive action around financial literacy in the midst of, and in response to, this economic crisis.
Thank you to Congresswoman Diane E. Watson for introducing House Resolution 65, "Expressing the support of the House of Representatives for efforts to increase financial literacy in the United States…" on January 14, 2009, which highlights and commends the leadership provided by Operation HOPE and the non-partisan U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy for its leadership role around aspirationally relevant financial literacy during these challenging times.
Thank you to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, chairwoman of the House Children's Caucus, who was directly inspired by the work of Operation HOPE and federal policy recommendations from the Annual Report to the President by the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, to introduce House Resolution 1325, "To require financial literacy counseling for borrowers, and for other purposes." The Resolution requires all borrowers receiving government-guaranteed student loans to receive a mandatory course in financial literacy, as well as colleges and universities receiving federal funds, which applies to most of them. This legislation also models the work that Operation HOPE is now fully engaged in with Banking on Our Future, College Edition, in partnership with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Col legues and Universities and their 105 member institutions.
Both pieces of legislation enjoy growing levels of support from Democrats and Republicans alike, as financial literacy empowerment is not a partisan political issue, but an American issue. Respectfully, I have always been down for the Get It Done Party. I just want to "get it done."
My upcoming book, LOVE LEADERSHIP: A New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, makes the case that there are two things in the world: love and fear, and what we don't love, we fear. And the world is all screwed up today because most leaders lead by fear. Well, fear's first cousin is greed, and greed's best friend is short-termism, and the roommate to short-termism is a focus on "me" instead of "we."
What we need now is a proper death for short-termism in our lives, and a new commitment to a long view, treating customers with the respect afforded to relationships and not simply like a financial transaction.
What we need now is to unleash once again the power of American ingenuity, through a new generation of small business and entrepreneurship; inspiring a generation of what my friend, civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height describes as "dreamers with shovels in their hands."
What we need is a return to "the power of ideas," instead of the power of simply, well, power and money.
The best way to find what I call "sustainable prosperity," and even a measure of meaning and joy in your life, is to focus on what you have to give, and not simply what you are able to get.
Capitalism and free enterprise is not what killed the prosperity party in America, but rather bad capitalism and me enterprise.
What we need now is to understand that we are all in this together.
John Hope Bryant