Book Review: ‘How the Poor Can Save Capitalism’ by John Hope Bryant

Published 10:00 pm, Monday, May 12, 2014

When politicians talk about poverty, they throw out grim statistics: numbers unemployed, numbers on public assistance, numbers incarcerated, and numbers of high school dropouts, for example. When businessman and thought leader John Hope Bryanttalks about poverty, he talks about opportunity – the potential entrepreneurs, homeowners, and community builders who are waiting for their turn at the American Dream.

Bryant, who serves on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for YoungAmericans, and is founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit banker for the working poor, the under-served, and the struggling middle class, is passionate on the subject of financial inclusion. In his brilliant and inspiring new book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), he builds a convincing argument for why raising up the least financially empowered consumers in America is great for the entire economic health of our country. Why? Because the bulk of our massive economy is driven by consumer spending, not by business or government. And the top spenders in our country are not the super wealthy. They’re the bottom 80% of the American workforce – the people who live paycheck to paycheck, and often have “too much month at the end of their money.”

Bryant explores the historical drivers of poverty, and shows why the real reasons people remain in poverty are because they lack self-confidence and self-esteem, positive role models, and opportunity. To address each of these deficits, he presents The HOPE Plan, which lays out: steps to create widespread financial literacy and financial access; strategies for encouraging employment and entrepreneurship; and concrete guidelines for ensuring that human capital needs are met and opportunity for all becomes real. Bryant believes it is possible to create financial inclusion through educational initiatives, tax incentives, credit reform, business and community development projects, and governmental posts and policy changes. What it’s going to take is positive change and action.

HOW THE POOR CAN SAVE CAPITALISMTo jump start such action, he presents detailed, step-by-step recommendations that government, business, and community leaders can implement to get real change happening in our economy. America’s poor and mi
ddle class people have a right to financial literacy, inclusion, and empowerment, just as wealthy people do. Yet basics that many of us take for granted – having a bank account, for example, or understanding the value of a decent credit score – remain out of reach for millions of Americans. He insists that it doesn’t require radical changes to create results. If we start teaching financial literacy in schools and encourage entrepreneurial development in our children, our economy could see major improvement within a generation.

Bryant paints a portrait of an America where everyone, not just the privileged class, has a bank account, understands how credit scores work, has the ability to get a low-interest mortgage, earns enough money to stay out of debt, and has the support and resources to either find work or create their own business. After reading this book, I was filled with hope, rather than doubt. Many highly esteemed leaders, including President Bill Clinton and civil rights leader Andrew Young, have praised and endorsed How the Poor Can Save Capitalism. I humbly add my name to that list. This book is a winner, and should be required reading for every high school civics class and included in every business school curriculum.

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