The phrase “forgotten man” was a phrase first used by William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) in an 1883 lecture in Brooklyn entitled The Forgotten Man. He was a classical liberal American social scientist and held the nation’s first professorship in sociology at Yale. He supported both laissez-faire economics and free markets and was in favor of the “forgotten man,” the middle class, a term he coined. He found that when discussing the rich helping the poor, the middle class is forgotten.
Sumner describes one of our social fallacies, when an impression is made on the mind and our attention is drawn to something at the expense of others. When attention is drawn to the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) very small numbers of people affected by suicides, we ignore the two largest killers in America which are heart disease and cancer. When other people are excluded, i.e. they become the forgotten man.
Sumner describes who the forgotten man is:
Now who is the Forgotten Man? He is the simple, honest laborer, ready to earn his living by productive work. We pass him by because he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors. He does not appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments. He only wants to make a contract and fulfill it, with respect on both sides and favor on neither side. He must get his living out of the capital of the country. The larger the capital is, the better living he can get. Every particle of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless is so much taken from the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer.
From Sumner’s comments above, the forgotten man “only wants to make a contract and fulfill it, with respect on both sides and favor on neither side,” sounds like he was more like the forgotten entrepreneurial man or woman. An entrepreneurial middle class who “loves his neighbor as himself,” not for nor instead of himself.
The Forgotten Entrepreneurial Man and Woman
When I first began researching my book HWJDB How Would Jesus Do Business? from conversations with my good friend and former Navy SEAL Jimmy Graham, we discussed the issues surrounding our businesses and our faith. We’re both first time entrepreneurs in our families. Our question: How does one take their talents, experiences, and skills and convert them into a product or service that would appeal to our target markets? This investment of one’s capital of both time and resources it is hoped that our product or service adds value to someone else’s life, and that we will be paid for that added value. In both of our eyes, we’re breaking the shackles off of the job cycle and getting into the more lucrative creating wealth cycle.
John loves crazy socks. As a young man with Down syndrome, that does not stop him. So a father-son venture John’s Crazy Socks was started because of his love of colorful and fun socks. They give five percent of their earnings to non profits and hire people with disabilities.
Bunker Roy started Barefoot College (Ted Talk), which teaches rural women and men—many of them illiterate—to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and even doctors. Their village now has become more self sufficient and everyone becomes more prosperous.
Christopher Conway is practicing Level One charity. He founded Spring Back Colorado which is a for profit company that recycles mattresses. His dual purpose is to employ the disenfranchised and those with barriers to employment. In reality, it works to achieve a triple bottom line: People, Planet, and Purpose.
Catherine Hoke is the founder of the non-profit Defy Ventures. They harness the natural talents of currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth and redirects them toward the creation of legal business ventures and careers. It offers entrepreneurial employment with a heavy emphasis on character-development training to current and former inmates.
Veronika Scott, CEO of The Empowerment Plan, came face to face with the choice between providing charity and hiring someone when attending a class at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The school challenged her to create a product to fill an actual need in her community. She took up the issue of homelessness and during her research was angrily confronted by a homeless woman who stated that she did not need a coat—she needed a job. This turning point for Scott shows that most homeless or helpless people want the dignity of work and to be productive.
These entrepreneurs and others like them are the forgotten man, men and women who live below the radar of the media’s “30 under 30,” the startup entrepreneurial community, and the rest of our society.
A business desert equals an opportunity oasis
The concept of “food deserts” describes areas or communities that lack access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. The census.gov site has data that expands this concept to include “business deserts,” areas and communities that lack some essential businesses. Their Business deserts = Opportunity oasis article discusses such business and economic issues.
While some areas of business are deserts, others are jungles. Thomas J. Stanley, author of The Millionaire Mind, recalls the story about printing a review copy of the book at the local copy shop. The clerk was a local lawyer who was moonlighting there because his law practice didn’t earn enough. Stanley revealed that in this lawyer’s community there were seven yellow pages of lawyers, more supply than demand. It was a job jungle for the lawyer, but it’s a matter of finding the right oasis.
Stanley then describes one person who became a millionaire because he was the only 18 wheel junk trucker parts dealer in his area, more demand than supply. And all of his truck mechanics earned over $120,000 a year, more than some medical personnel. Stanley also stated that there are over 22,000 businesses in the U.S., that says there are more than enough opportunities to start a business with your talents for a side hustle.
When it comes to the forgotten man, one thing which stands out. The forgotten man are individuals who have an innate desire to pursue those things that are of self-interest. Self-interest means the forgotten man is no longer forgotten, no longer in the shadows of life eclipsed by the “shiny objects” of the rich or the poor. No longer the media’s darling of “30 under 30” up and coming young entrepreneurs. But it is all about our Yankee ingenuity, know-how, self-reliance, and individual enterprise that brings the forgotten man into the light and they become the enlightened man.
“The model of the U.S. economy is that we are the country that does new things.”
-- Peter Thiel
 The Forgotten Man and Other Essays by William Graham Sumner, pg 476