Former Puebloan dreams up idea to boost world economies by paying people to pursue education
The nation’s top banking regulator, former Puebloan Brian Brooks, has a concept he thinks could change the world.
Brooks, 52, is an East High School graduate who went on to get a bachelors degree at Harvard University and a law degree in Chicago. His most recent job is serving as Comptroller of the Currency, a position he was appointed to in November by President Donald Trump.
It's a job that has him overseeing the staff that supervise nearly 1,200 national banks that conduct about 70% of all banking business in the United States. It is a job, he said, that will no doubt end when the president’s term is up later this month.
Brooks creates Project REACH, Country Coin
His idea, “Country Coin” would be a payment for people receiving an education. As a result the country they live in will realize a productivity increase caused by people getting educated.
“I have this philosophy that if you want to help the least well off the way to do it is not through philanthropy, it is by harnessing market forces. The thing that has lifted more people out of poverty in the last 60 years more than anything else is capitalism in Africa — it is allowing people to actually own stuff and generate equity,” Brooks said.
As an example, he pointed to a late 1990s Nobel Peace Prize winning bank Grameen Bank that had the idea to give poor women in Bangladesh micro loans of $50 so they could purchase smartphones, leave abusive relationships and start businesses using the phones.
“That is exactly what happened," Brooks said. "It doesn’t take very much to allow people to help themselves."
Brooks initially came up with Project REACH, a Roundtable for Economic Access and Change with the goal of reducing barriers that prevent fair participation in the nation’s economy. The idea was, “We could radically open up the system (and identify) what are the structural barriers and we found a few — it was kind of amazing,” he said.
“You know in the wake of all the protests this summer, banks' first reaction was to donate to a charity or donate to Black Lives Matter. And I was like, ‘No,’ what the protests were all about was the idea of systemic inequality — structural racism.
“They are saying there is something wrong with the system, they aren’t saying they need more money,” he said. "You don’t need more money to radically open up the system."
His Country Coin idea is much like Project REACH on an international level.
“It is about the notion that you have a dramatic difference in education levels in the developing world versus the developed world and that is why those countries are poor. What you need is for people who don’t know how to read to learn how to read, for people who don’t have a skill to have a skill.
“When you raise the average education level in a country by one year — like take Afghanistan for example — they have an average sixth-grade education. If you raise it to seventh grade, in one year the GDP in the country goes up almost 1%," Brooks said.
Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country in a year.
“So what if you share some of that 1% with the people who are getting educated. The idea is if you are doing good behavior that produces good results for society, you should get paid for it,” Brooks said..
"I think harnessing market forces for the benefit of everyone is the only real sustainable way to solve the problems of poverty and development,” he said.
Brooks, who said he will go out with the Trump administration, will be free to pursue the idea of founding the company that could implement Country Coin.
“It’s just a great idea. What I expect will happen on the other side of this idea is that Country Coin will be implemented by the private sector and there will be a company that builds the technology and creates the network on which the tokens will transact," he said.
There will be a platform for educational content, where global education developers will offer education modules on an “App Store” like platform.
“The only government involvement will be that this Country Coin company will (have representatives) go around the world talking to finance ministers and making the case they should set aside a portion of the growth contributed to education for the benefit of the token holders."
"The most important message is people go to college and it costs money for them to do that. The problem with that is when you are done paying for your education, only some of the people who get paid for that education get the benefits of it economically because the people who get the good jobs, they get the full benefit," he said.
"This is a way of making sure that (everyone can) capture the value their education creates,” he explained. “The concept is that you don’t pay for your education, we pay you to get educated because your education generates growth — that is a revolutionary innovation."
He said there is no reason a version of Country Coin could not be implemented in the United States as well, especially in areas where there is a large instance of income inequality.
Pueblo helped inspire Brooks and his efforts
Brooks said there are at least eight mentors in Pueblo who helped him along the path he has taken.
“When my dad died, I was 14. What inspired me was growing up in a place like Pueblo where there was this whole group of men who basically took me under their wing and made me their project and that is why I am where I am,” Brooks said.
Jim Fredregill of the former La Renaissance restaurant, gave Brooks his first job and “took me into the family.” Piano teacher Charles DeHeart gave him four lessons a week his senior year in high school and at a certain point no longer sent Brooks' mother a bill for his services.
When he is not dreaming up ideas of how to end poverty, Brooks, a classic pianist ,plays keyboards and sings for the Washington, D.C.-area classic rock band “The Johnny Esquire Band.”
To learn more about Country Coin, watch CNN at 7:30 a.m. Friday when Brooks will be a guest on the news channel.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business and Fremont County news. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.