Jul 27, 2020 - Economy

Exclusive: Bob Johnson lays out his solution for wealth inequality

Bob Johnson.

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

After reading Axios' 10 myths about the racial wealth gap, BET co-founder and entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson is issuing a challenge to politicians, civic leaders and Black organizations across the country: Refute the findings or lay out a set of actionable solutions.

What he's saying: And if they can't, "they need to have the courage to stand up to Black people and say, 'You are perpetually a second-class economic population in America,'" Johnson said during an hourlong one-on-one interview Sunday.

  • "Say to Black America, all 40 million of us, 'Guys, you will never attain the wealth of white families in this country ... Get used to it.'"

Where it stands: Johnson asserts that there is only one way to truly close the U.S. racial wealth gap. "The simple conclusion is white America, if they really want to see Black people equally wealthy to them: Give Black people more wealth, more capital, more cash," he says.

  • "White people, from the beginning of this country, have had more access to capital to create wealth than Black people. And wealth in a capitalist society — or access to capital in a capitalist society — propels you to more wealth."

Why it matters: The man who created the first Black-owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and then sold it for a reported $3 billion argues that the research in the story "devastated a generation of notions as to how Black people could compete in a capitalist society and get equal opportunity and access to capital."

The big picture: Johnson now asserts that public officials and organizations like the Urban League, NAACP and Congressional Black Caucus need to change course in their advocacy.

Yes, but: Johnson is not hopeful.

  • Even if Congress passed H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, he's convinced legislative actions would only invest in the same programs proven not to work by years of research from the Fed, Department of Commerce, Brookings Institution and others.
  • And having spoken to a litany of fellow CEOs and entrepreneurs, he says the private sector has "bought into what you call myths ... And therefore, they will take no other alternatives because they believe in the dogma."

The last word: "If government-subsidized, means-tested programs don't work ... then go to the other way, which is [to] give wealth to Black people using tax policy. And reparations is nothing but tax policy."

  • "If you taxed every white American eight dollars a day for 30 years, you'd get to $14 trillion of wealth being transferred to Black America."
Go deeper