Understanding the Bitterness of Wassily Leontief: Intention and Reception of Input-Output Techniques, 1940s-1950s


Vincent Carret


Publication Number: 2022-04

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Leontief was and still is one of the most recognized names in economics, inextricably linked
to the development of input-output techniques, but throughout his life he remained fiercely
critical of other economists’ works and of the state of economic science. To understand his
bitterness, we go back to the root of the split between Leontief and the rest of the economics
profession, through an examination based on new archival material of the debates that took place
in the late 1940s. We show that these debates were concerned with the core of the practice of
economists, the conduct of economic policy and the relation between rational individuals and the
economy as a whole. From his input-output model, conceived as an operational theory of
economic interdependencies, Leontief drew a specific approach to economic policy and planning
which had a lot of success with government agencies, explaining how he could durably sustain
his split from the profession.