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Leontief Home | Other Recipients

2000 Leontief Prize
Awarded to Amartya Sen and John Kenneth Galbraith

Amarty Sen accepts the award from Neva Goodwin

GDAE Honors Sen and Galbraith with Inaugural "Leontief Prizes" A standing-room-only crowd packed Fletcher"s ASEAN Auditorium Monday evening to hear Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen speak on "Global Development in the 21st Century." The event also featured the inauguration of the "Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought," which was awarded to Sen and John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith, who is recovering from a fall, was unable to attend but was represented by his wife, Katherine Galbraith.

"Today we honor several people who remind us that economics the so-called dismal science can be a powerful tool in the hands of those committed to overcoming the persistent inequalities that plague our world," said Tufts' President John DiBiaggio in opening the event. The president co-hosted the event with Tufts" Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE), which created the Leontief Prize to honor the memory of Nobel laureate Wassily Leontief, who was a member of the institute's Advisory Board until his death last year.

The gathering also celebrated the publication of GDAE"s "The Political Economy of Inequality," the fifth in the institute's six-volume book series, "Frontier Issues in Economic Thought." Referring to GDAE as "the little institute that could" for it"s remarkable seven-year record of publications, President DiBiaggio called the event "an overdue public recognition of some remarkable contributors to the intellectual life of our university." [see text of President DiBiaggio's remarks]

But the spotlight shone most brightly on economists Sen and Galbraith, as well as Wassily Leontief. "Wassily had no patience for beautiful abstractions without application," noted Dr. Neva Goodwin, an economist who co-directs GDAE with Fletcher professor William Moomaw. "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."

Goodwin presented the first award to Galbraith, lauding him for his work on the problems of inequality and consumerism and for "relentlessly describing the world as he so perceptively sees it -- sometimes leaving theory to come panting in his wake." [see full text of Neva Goodwin's remarks]

"I regret not being able to receive in person an award named for Wassily Leontief, my old friend and admired colleague, and one of the great figures in world economics," Galbraith noted in his remarks, which were read by Bill Moomaw. "We may never see his like again." [see full text of Galbraith remarks]

John Kenneth Galbraith

On the subject of inequality, Galbraith decried the lack of attention to the gap between rich and poor. His 1958 book, "The Affluent Society," highlighted the divergence between "private affluence" and "public squalor." In his remarks, Galbraith poked fun at those in the economics profession who would reject progressive taxation, referring to such an approach as "the 'horse and sparrow' theory of income distribution and its taxation: If you feed a horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows."

Dr. Goodwin then introduced Amartya Sen, who is the Master of Trinity College in Cambridge, England and Lamont University Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. "Amartya merges the insights of economics and philosophy through a combination of rigor and humanitarian concern that have not been seen since John Stuart Mill," noted Goodwin in presenting him with the Leontief Prize. "He has insisted that economists must care at least as much about equity as about efficiency, [starting] from the questions: What is a good life? How is it achieved?" [see full text of Sen's remarks]

After thanking GDAE for the award and for its "wonderful series which is making a major impact," he spoke eloquently of the significance of Leontief and Galbraith and their impact on him. He lauded Leontief for his lasting contributions to our understanding of industrial development.

Sen also recalled being strongly influenced as a young man by Galbraith"s "American Capitalism," which he remembered finishing as he nursed a cup of coffee in a Calcutta caf. He referred to Galbraith"s concept of "countervailing powers" as one of his many overlooked contributions. "The idea that one type of power may require other kinds of power to help it stay in balance" continues to be relevant, he noted, pointing out that the Soviet Union's transition suffers today from the absence of institutional countervailing powers to balance market forces.

Sen closed with a discussion of development, stating that there are no perfect models in the world. India, he said, is now the world"s second largest producer of software but still has nearly half its population illiterate. Even the United States, he pointed out, has large segments of its population suffering severe deprivation. He noted as an example that while African-Americans have relatively high incomes compared to people in most developing countries, their life expectancy is lower, one of many "peculiar dichotomies" in the United States.

 

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