from GDAE Leontief Prize Event
Introductions and Award
Presentations by GDAE Co-director Neva Goodwin
for this event celebrates three extraordinary economists.
Each of them has, in different but dramatic ways,
advanced the frontiers of economic thought.
this occasion also celebrates the latest publication
in our series, Frontier Issues in Economic Thought.
Our institute has spent the last seven years in a
massive research project to survey work that advances
the frontiers of economic thought -- not just for
the sake of intellectual novelty, but focusing on
movement in what we regard as constructive directions:
directions that address contemporary realities, and
support just and sustainable societies.
Development And Environment Institute has established
the Leontief prize to memorialize Wassily Leontief,
our friend and, from 1993 until his much regretted
death last year, a member of our external advisory
best known for the single, powerful methodological
advance which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1973: the
invention of input-output analysis. In talking with
Wassily, and in reading his work, it was always clear
that he perceived his special contribution within
an even larger framework. He was deeply concerned
that economics maintain a proper balance between theoretical
and empirical analysis. He cared a lot about facts
-- the visible wrinkles on the otherwise invisible
fabric of Truth. This was a passion that had imbued
his whole life.
The first time
I met him, he described to me the excitement of being
in prison in the early days of the Russian revolution,
when he was a bright, uppity student. The memorable
parts of that experience were the impassioned, all-night
conversations with the prison guards: What were the
facts about the revolution? What was the theory? How
did facts and theory support one another?
no patience for beautiful abstractions without application:
his lifetime work was based on an unwavering assumption,
that the purpose of economics is to be useful. Being
useful meant making it possible for human beings to
interact with the physical world in ways that would
better the human condition.
most concrete influence on the Global Development
And Environment Institute grew out of his ongoing
relationship with his natal Russia. He was the instigator
of an introductory economics textbook we have developed
for that country, whose history has in no way prepared
it to use simple translations of U.S. economics texts.
With Wassily's encouragement we worked with Russian
economists, as well as with Kelvin Lancaster and Thomas
Weisskopf in the U.S., to provide an introduction
to market economics that takes account of Russia's
the first two recipients of the Leontief prize, which
we inaugurate today, I would like to recognize Ann
Carter, a long-time, close associate of Leontief --
now Dean of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis -- who is
here to represent the Leontief family.
Galbraith, one of the two inaugural awardees of the
Leontief Prize, has delighted and edified the many
and devoted readers of his many and scintillating
books by relentlessly describing the world as he so
perceptively sees it -- sometimes leaving theory to
come panting in his wake.
tide of the last few decades, he has repeatedly warned
of the cost to the powerless in society when governments
cede too much of their power to market forces. In
the early 1950s he recognized what is even more obvious
today: that the growing power of giant corporations
diminishes the usefulness of economic theories that
start from the assumption of perfect competition.
side of the coin from Galbraith's trenchant observations
of corporations is his recognition of how consumer
behavior and consumer tastes are manipulated to increase
demand. This observation, too, has only become more
relevant with the passing decades, and has inspired
the growing number of people who are concerned about
the ways that modern materialist consumption fails
to increase human well-being, and threatens the health
of the environment. Ken Galbraith strides easily over
what others perceive as boundaries between economics
and the adjacent social sciences -- history, sociology,
and political theory. With his eagle's eye view of
what is relevant to our field, he has been a marvelously
helpful and interested friend to our series on the
Frontier Issues of Economic Thought. It was
obvious that he was the right person to write the
introduction to Volume 2, The Consumer Society,
and it is especially appropriate to be taking this
opportunity, of the publication of The Political
Economy of Inequality, to thank him for his inspiration
I would like
to ask Kitty Galbraith to take to her husband this
memento of the Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers
of Economic Thought.
I now turn
to the third luminary of this occasion: Amartya Sen.
Another very great boundary-crosser, Sen has merged
the insights of economics and philosophy through a
combination of rigor and humanitarian concern that
have not been seen since John Stuart Mill. The problems
he addresses include poverty, inequality, freedom,
and the meaning of progress. He is not a man who avoids
the large issues!
A casual observer
might conclude that it is the philosopher in Sen who
has paid such scrupulous attention to the logical
use of economic methods; who has insisted that economists
must care at least as much about equity as about efficiency;
and whose work starts from the questions: What is
a good life? How is it achieved?
But these are
not only philosophical concerns. When they are ignored,
there is a great danger that the field of economics
in general, and development economics in particular,
will produce policy recommendations that have no aim
but GDP growth. There are things in the Gross Domestic
Product that do, and things that do not, contribute
to human well-being; and there are aspects of well-being
that have nothing to do with GDP. Sen cuts across
these, identifying, on a logically rigorous, ethically
grounded basis, the human concerns that must be central
It should be
obvious why, in 1996, when we finished writing the
third Frontiers book, Human Well-Being and Economic
Goals, it was an easy choice to dedicate that
book to Amartya Sen. As I noted initially, this event
is illuminated by three stars. The three economists
whom we celebrate today embody in fullest measure
the citation that goes with the Leontief Prize for
Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.
They have each, as the citation says, made outstanding
contributions to economic theory which address contemporary
realities and support just and sustainable societies.
It is with
the greatest pleasure that we present the Leontief
Prize for advancing the frontiers of economic thought
to Amartya Sen -- and turn over the podium to him.