Elgar original reference
Edited by Bruce A. Seaman and Dennis R. Young
James Alm A brief story . . . Over 30 years ago, my first assignment as a graduate research assistant in economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison was to work with Burton Weisbrod. At the time, Burt was starting his seminal work on the economics of the nonprofit sector, and he had just acquired from the Internal Revenue Service a sample of (he thought) roughly 500 000 ‘tax returns’ for section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Burt asked me to determine whether it made sense for him to use the existing mainframe computer in the social science building to analyze these returns, or whether he should purchase his own computer to compile the returns and to conduct the statistical work. Remember that this was prior to – but only just – the creation of the personal computer, so the universal consensus from the Wisconsin computer experts was that it was ‘insane’ for anyone to even consider purchasing their own mainframe computer. As a result, Burt resigned himself to using the existing computing facilities. Of course, within only a few years, the PC came into widespread use. What this story illustrates and why this story is, I believe, relevant for this collection of original essays is that it shows that there are people who are ahead of the times, even though this may not be accepted or recognized at the time. Burt’s belief that studying the nonprofit sector was important – and important to mainstream economics – was not a view that was then widely shared by...