Wassily Leontief: Architect of Input-Output Economics and Nobel Laureate

Suman Kumar

Wassily Leontief (5 August 1905 – 5 February 1999), was a Soviet-American economist. He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1973.

Life and Career

He was born on 5 August 1905, in Munich, German Empire. He enrolled at the University of Leningrad in 1921. In 1925, he earned his Learned Economist degree, the equivalent of a Master of Arts. He got his Ph.D. in 1929 after submitting his dissertation The Economy as Circular Flow.

In 1931, he moved to the United States and joined the National Bureau of Economic Research, and there, he began researching the American economy. He was invited to the Harvard University economics department in 1932 to join as an instructor. He made sure the university helped him develop his ideas on input-output analysis before he took up the position. He got a $2,000 grant from Harvard and a research assistant. After that, he built a table covering 42 American industries between 1919 and 1929. After compiling the figures, they had to make manual calculations after months of work.

He was promoted to assistant professor in 1933. He also published a bunch of papers while working on input-output analysis. He published an important article in 1933 about analyzing international trade using indifference curves. He invented the non-linear cobweb model in 1934. He was the first social scientist to use a computer in 1935. Also, that year, he started his ‘Price Analysis’ seminar, which helped to establish mathematical economics at Harvard. He published a paper in 1936 on ‘complex commodities’, which later formed the basis of microeconomic theory. Furthermore, he published reviews of Keynes’ General Theory.

From 1948 to 1975, he was the director of Harvard’s Economic Research Project on the American Economy. He was a professor of economics at New York University from 1975 to 1978 when he was named director of the school’s Institute for Economic Analysis. He founded The Institute of Economic Analysis at New York University in 1978, and he ran it until 1991. He also helped other nations adopt input-output analysis during this time. Wassily Leontief died on 5 February 1999, in New York City, US.

Major Works

His input-output system is centered on a grid showing what industries buy from and sell to each other. A national economy can be defined as the goods and services flowing around a country with the help of government, consumers, and foreign countries. The input-output method of economic analysis is used in various forms by a large number of industrialized countries for both planning and forecasting.

He is also famous for developing linear programming, a mathematical technique for solving complex economic problems. He co-authored ‘Military Spending: Facts and Figures, Worldwide Implications and Future Outlook’ (1983), ‘The Future of Non-Fuel Minerals in the U.S. and ‘World Economy’ (1983), and ‘The Future Impact of Automation on Workers (1986). He also wrote a bunch of papers.

Award and Legacy

In 1973, he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for the development of the input-output method and for its application to important economic problems”.

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