By Nick Wenzel
Emory hosted a conversation around nonprofit Operation Hope Founder and CEO John Hope Bryant’s new book How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class Thursday at the Goizueta Business School.
The panel discussion, which centered around capitalism and ways to jumpstart the economy, included Ambassador Andrew Young, the first African American U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, former mayor of Atlanta and civil rights activist. The panel led the conversation with Bryant, who has also been an advisor on the Council of Financial Capability to President Obama.
Other members of the panel discussion included Interim Chair of African American Studies and Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department, Andra Gillespie and Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Economics Esfandiar Maasoumi.
Claire Sterk, Emory provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, moderated the conversation.
Prior to the discussion, Senior Lecturer in the Sociology department Sam Cherribi, who also organized the event, said in person he was excited for the event as it gave the attendees an opportunity to listen to people with “real world experience.” Additionally, he said that these are people who could end up employing Emory students in the future.
Cherribi has worked closely with Bryant on many domestic and foreign aid projects.
Sterk opened up the discussion by welcoming the guest speakers and explaining that it would be a conversation with “agreements and disagreements.” She followed that with her opening question, “How is it possible for the poor to save capitalism?”
Bryant tackled the question first. Referring to his book, he said, “[The book] is crazy, but it’s not far fetched.” He went on to say that the most dangerous person to society is a person with no hope.
Bryant believes that the inability of the poor to hold onto assets is holding them back. He gave an example of trading stocks, explaining that, a while back, SunTrust bank received $110,000 in shares of Coca-Cola and simply held onto it. They did not buy or sell any more of it and in 2009 they sold those shares for $3 billion.
The poor do not have that ability to hold the shares, according to Bryant, as they are more likely to sell it for a slight profit.
Bryant continued to talk about capitalism as a whole. He stated, “Capitalism is a horrible system … except for every other system.” He then gave an example of a knife which he explained can be used to help or harm.
Bryant also discussed structure, saying that he believes that the government is necessary, but that entrepreneurship is just as vital. To illustrate the role of the government, he stated, “You’ve never had a government leader who wasn’t an economic leader.”
Young then opened by explaining, “What [Bryant] is saying is right on target.” However, according to Young, this is all based on the assumption that there is a democracy working in your favor. Without that, he explained, capitalism will fail.
Gillespie agreed with much of what had been said during the conversation, however she believes that there are provisions the government should put in place to protect the poor.
In respond to Gillespie’s point concerning government involvement, Bryant claimed, “You do need government as an enabling force … but without business and entrepreneurs, you have dead-ass nothing.”
Bryant added that he believes wealth is not based on financial security but rather on hope and self-esteem. He introduced something he called the HOPE Doctrine on Poverty, which explains that the poorest people are those with no hope or self-esteem while those with high self-esteem are the rich. This referred back to what he said earlier about the biggest threat to capitalism – those with no hope.
Later in the conversation, Bryant referred back to his HOPE Doctrine. He claimed that people aspire to be what they see, therefore, if people with no hope surround them, how could they expect to have hope.
Maasoumi then chimed in and explained that he believes that the economic arguments made were compelling. He also agreed with the notion that you covet what you see, however, he did feel it was important to note the lottery aspect, which states that the prize of winning the lottery, or in this case financial security, is very hard to come by.
Therefore, people are always bound to miss out.
Young then noted that he believes the key to a strong economy is including as many people as possible into it, including the poor.
He stated, “The more people you bring into the pie, the bigger the pie gets.” He elaborated on that by stating, “You can make more money honestly in a growing economy than stealing in a dying economy.”
All the participants said that they believed that stimulating the economy through new investments and entrepreneurship is necessary as well as ensuring individuals are well versed in financial literacy so they can better maintain wealth.
The conversation was closed with two important messages.
According to Young, “Whenever there is a crisis, flip it and make it an opportunity,” and Bryant said that he believes poor people will once again save the country.
Following the conversation, Bryant said that he greatly enjoyed speaking at Emory, adding that “the solution to the economy starts with you and me.”
“I thought Bryant’s points had some validity, but were a bit idealistic,” Goizueta Business School junior Rehan Bhiwandiwalla said after the event.
“I found John Hope Bryant’s message extremely interesting,” College sophomore Zachary Bayer said. “He articulated his message well and was very convincing.”
– By Nick Wenzel, Contributing Writer