When Wassily Leontief heard that a Harvard professor with a Russian name had won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Economics, he rushed out to buy a newspaper--only to find that the winner was his colleague Simon S. Kuznets.
But last fall, when a similar rumor travelled the academic grapevine, Leontief had no doubts that this time the prize was his. He was the only department member with a Russian name, and his widely used input-output theorem had long been considered worthy of the $120,000 cash prize.
The vibrant Russian emigre developed the input-output analysis while teaching at Harvard in the early 1930s. Since then, his method has been used chiefly for planning in socialist and developing countries.
In his characteristic down-to-earth manner, Leontief likens his complex input-output matrix to a cookbook recipe: "You add a little bit of these production factors, and you get a little bit of those."
His elegantly simple method is based on the idea that the products of certain industries are used as production factors in other industries. Using input-output analysis, an economist can chart the interdependence of industrial output and predict the effects shifts in one industry will have on another.
Although the Swedish prize committee touted Leontief for the academic usefulness of his economic work, those who know him regard the prize as a tribute to his broad-minded and humanitarian attitudes.
Although he is not a Marxist, Leontief was one of a handful of Harvard economists who spoke last year in behalf of Samuel S. Bowles, associate professor of economics, and other radical economists seeking faculty positions in the generally conservative department.
Leontief is an outspoken critic of the Nixon administration who would like to see more resources allocated towards "improving the well-being of the common man." Specifically, Leontief has advocated tax reform and military spending cutbacks.
Leontief is the third Harvard economist to join the Harvard roster of Nobel celebrities. His colleagues consider him among the most dedicated and deserving laureates.