Thinker in Residence: A Q&A with John Hope Bryant

July 10, 2014


"As I looked around me, throughout the course of my life, it just dawned on me that Americans' and America’s real value was hiding in plain sight. " ~John Hope Bryant


A Q&A with John Hope Bryant on How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class

John Hope Bryant is a visionary. He has an ability to see things right in front of us that so many look past, and in doing so see a better, brighter future. But beyond simply seeing it, he is out in the world shaking it up and making it happen, bringing it into being. He is, quite simply, an inspiration—to many people, and certainly to me. Before getting to the brief interview I did with him, the video below may help you understand why.


So let's move right on into the questions and, more importantly... the answers, shall we?

1. People tend to think of the poor (if they think of them at all) as in need of charity. Your book flips that assumption on its head, saying not only that the poor need an infusion of capitalism, but that capitalism needs them. What prompted this revelation?

As I looked around me, throughout the course of my life, it just dawned on me that Americans' and America's real value was hiding in plain sight. That literally everything that was driving the economy had two features:

  1. It started with rich people. Planes, trains, automobiles, restaurants, cell phones, etc.
  2. But it is driven by the working poor, working class and teetering middle class.

Boom. That convinced me that I had a book. Not about black people, or minority people, or just poor people—but most people.

2. It seems like American capitalism is constantly looking for new markets to expand into, and will go (and has gone) to the ends of the Earth to pursue economic growth. Why is there such a blind spot with regards to growing the economies of poor communities here in America, which would really be a "rising tide to lift all boats?"

The bible suggests, "a prophet is only without honor in his own home town." It is as old as the ages, my friend. We save our worst behavior for those we care the most about. We look right past our highest value, often at home, and go looking for new lands to conquer. It is the difference between leading by fear and insecurity and short-termism, and leading with strength, vision, confidence and desire for long-term wealth for all.

"As I looked around me, throughout the course of my life, it just dawned on me that Americans' and America's real value was hiding in plain sight."

~John Hope Bryant

3. What work can we do to reverse that trend? How do we find the political will to address poverty in America when politicians themselves won't even mention the word—or, if they do, it is with an insinuation that the poor are a drain on the economy instead of a potential for growth.

If will never happen because it is "the right thing to do." It will only happen when it becomes a political reality—when politicians' jobs depend on it. Which means, when it becomes a national priority, and a nation's priority, and not just a poor people's priority. And that is precisely what is happening now. The majority of Americans are not doing as good as they should, or even as they had—and most don't believe that their children will be able to do better either. And America is all about the middle class American Dream. And that is why I believe this is the right book, at the right time, for everyone. It is the (positive) answer to Piketty's book on 21st century capital. He makes very good points, and I believe that in many ways, my book answers his very good questions.

4. Can financial literacy make up for the current lack of adequate employment in our economy? No, alone it cannot. Financial literacy is not a tonic; it is a tool. But like being in Japan and not speaking a word of Japanese, without it, you cannot make it very far in society at all. Financial literacy is literally the language of money. And if you don't understand the global language of money, and if you don't have a bank account, then you are just an economic slave. With financial literacy comes financial understanding, financial capability, financial inclusion and at least the opportunity for financial and economic empowerment. Most jobs in America (70%) come from small businesses with 500 employees or less, and half of all employment is 100 employees or less—Places just like Operation HOPE and CEO-READ. And most all job growth comes from start-ups, shoot ups, and small business owners. So, you and me—and an empowered idea made real—is literally driving the largest and most robust and fascinating economy in the world. Folks may love to hate us around the world, but they also love to copy us. Look at China and Russia, as but two examples. Basically, communist countries that reject everything they can of the "American west," which have essentially adopted American capitalism itself. Hello.



Check in with us tomorrow as we conclude our Thinker in Residence series with more of John Hope Bryant's thoughts on business and the books that have influenced him most. You can also read a manifesto he wrote for our sister site, ChangeThis.


Learn more about our Thinker in Residence, John Hope Bryant, and read our review of his latest book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class.

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