Russia’s Genius: Leonid V. Kantorovich
by  Benjamin McMillan

The Life and Achievements
of Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich
by Sarah Campion

Russia’s Genius:
Leonid V. Kantorovich

by  Benjamin McMillan


Leonid V. Kantorovich was born in the city of Leningrad in January of 1912 to a meager family. His father, Vitalij Kantorovich, died when Leonid was only 10 years old, leaving his mother, Paulina to raise him herself. Leonid grew up during violent times in Russia. During the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Leonid and his mother fled to Byelorussia to escape the bloodshed before returning to their home more than a year later (Kantorovich).


Leonid was a naturally inquisitive child with a broad range of interests including politics and modern history. Upon entering the Mathematical Department of the Leningrad University at the mere age of 14, Leonid soon realized that his main interests lay in the fields of science and mathematics. Leonid immediately excelled at mathematics and within his second year at the University he was already working on complex and abstract mathematics. By the age of eighteen, Leonid had already distinguished himself as an authority in mathematics.


When Leonid graduated from the university he remained there to teach and continue his research in theoretical mathematics. By this period in his life, Leonid had begun to shift his concentration towards applied mathematics problems. His work in theoretical mathematics was quite renowned among his colleagues and he had received numerous accolades for his work in that field. As it would turn out, Leonid’s greatest contributions would not be in theoretical mathematics at all, but rather applied mathematical economics. Such accomplishments would not have been possible, however, were it not for his early work in mathematical theory (Kantorovich).

In the 1930’s The Soviet Union underwent massive industrialization efforts under the authority of Joseph Stalin. The entire economy was radically shifted towards an industrial base from one previously focused on peasant farmers. This colossal shift presented the central planners with a number of problems including those inherent in the Soviet ideology. It was this economic revolution that provided Leonid with the environment that would enable him to use his genius (Keylor).


 During this period, Leonid was continuing his research while also working as a professor at the University of Leningrad. His research shifted focus as he became interested in combining his previous research in theoretical mathematics with that of applied mathematics. It was then that he wrote his first book titled Approximate Methods of Higher Analysis in which he outlines methods of using functional analysis in solving real world applications (Leifman). This work received major critical acclaim from scholars and was Leonid’s first step towards integrating theory and application.  


Towards the end of the decade, while serving as a consultant for a government laboratory, Leonid was presented with a perplexing problem. It concerned the efficient distribution of raw materials such that equipment productivity would be maximized. What initially seemed to be a simple matter of applying differential calculus quickly turned out to be a much more daunting task (Kantorovich). It was this puzzle that initially piqued Leonid’s interest in using mathematics for economic applications. Problems of this nature soon seemed to plague Socialist central-planners in their efforts to force efficiency as Leonid continued his work at finding a solution. Then, in 1939, Leonid published a paper that essentially outlined these types of problems and offered a solution. That solution developed by Leonid  was linear programming. His conclusions were met with much skepticism at first but were soon proved to have practical applications when he calculated the optimal amount of steel a certain factory should use. His prescriptions resulted in a significant reduction of production cost and ushered in a new age of economics (Kantorovich).


World War II erupted the following year and Leonid was called away to serve as Professor of Naval Engineers. His research continued but was hindered until he was able to return to Leningrad in 1944 (Kantorovich). During the postwar period, the Soviet Union found itself devastated from a costly and deadly war. A new political structure emerged globally in which the Germans were no longer a danger. The new enemy was the Capitalist economy of the Western nations. The Soviet Union was mobilized towards one end which was victory of the Communist economy (Keylor). For this reason, the interest in economics and Leonid’s work especially, grew substantially among Soviet officials. He made addresses to the Duma and served on a number committees in charge of central-planning.


In 1959, Leonid published a book titled The Best Use of Economic Resources which addressed the very problems of central planning and offered some remedies (Kantorovich). It was also during this period that Leonid began to work more closely with Tjalling Koopmans with whom he shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in economics for optimal allocation strategies (Nobel). This spawned a huge interest in the use of applied mathematics and economics together and put Leonid at the forefront of a revolution in the field of mathematical economics.

It is no surprise today that the life of the Soviet economy was greatly aided by Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich’s work in applied mathematics and economics. For the Latter part of this century he was distinguished as being the foremost expert in the field of mathematical economics which he conceived.



Online Resources

1.            www.britannica.com

2.          Nobel Prize Internet Archive http:Ilwww.almaz.comlnobellnobel.html

3.          Nobel Prize official site www.nobel.se

4.          Leonid Kantorovich “Autobiography” www.nobel.s/laureates/economv-1 975-1 -autobio.htm


5.          L J Leifman (ed.), Functional analysis, optimization and mathematical economics a collection of papers dedicated to the memory of Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich (New York, 1990).

6.           Keylor. William R. The Twentieth Century World. (Oxford, 1994)



The Life and Achievements of
Leonid Vitalevich

by Sarah Campion


Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich was born in Petersburg, Russia in 1912.  His mother raised him in Petersburg after his father died when he was ten years old.  He had an early beginning into the field of mathematics and science and had great accomplishments in his life.  Kantorovich's life is filled with important mathematical and economic discoveries, some of which were used to compare socialist and capitalist economies.  His most famous accomplishment is the 1975 Nobel Prize in economics for optimal allocation of scarce resources.


Kantorovich's interest in mathematics and sciences began early in his life when he entered the Mathematical Department of the Leningrad University in 1926.  This school combined theoretical and applied research, which was an important base for Kantorovich's later work in underlying economics with applied mathematical techniques.  Kantorovich describes some of his first important research in the school by saying, “I think my most significant research in those days was that connected with analytical operations on sets and on projective sets (1929-30) where I solved some N. N. Lusin problems” (autobiography).  After graduating in 1930 with a doctorate in mathematics, Kantorovich started researching in applied problems while teaching at the higher level education institutions.  He wrote the papers, A New Method of Approximate Conformal Mapping and The New Variational Method, which were published in the book, Approximate Methods of Higher Analysis that he wrote with V.I. Krylov.  


It was in 1938 as a professor at the university that Kantorovich first began in the field of economics.  He describes in his autobiography that his start in economics was “accidental”[1].  Kantorovich was a consultant in the Laboratory of the Plywood Trust for a complex problem that had economic importance.  As he describes the problem was economically about distributing initial raw materials to maximize equipment productivity while placed under restrictions.  Mathematically the problem “entailed maximizing a linear function on a convex polytype”(autobiography).  While working on this problem, Kantorovich realized that it was in fact a common problem in mathematics and economics.  This problem dealt with work distribution of equipment, best use of area, rational material cutting, use of complex resources and distribution of transport flows[2].  By solving this problem, he could apply the result to many other economic problems that had the same underlying mathematical theme.  Kantorovich used a concept of functional analysis, which he named the “method of resolving multipliers” and created a method for solving the complex problem.  Kantorovich was one of the first personas to use linear programming to relate to economics.  The book Kantorovich wrote that discussed these ideas is called The Mathematical Method of Production Planning and Organization and was published by the Leningrad University Press in 1939. 


At this time the Cold War was erupting in Russia and this had an effect on Kantorovich by disrupting his studies.  He left Leningrad to work as a Professor at the Higher School for Naval Engineers.  At this time in 1942 Kantorovich wrote the first version of his book, The Best Use of Economic Resources.  This was a compilation of reports and publications on the topic that he earned the Nobel Prize.  Kantorovich earned this award jointly with Tjalling Koopmans who studied this topic mainly independent from Kantorovich.  The problem was how available productive resources could be used to the greatest advantage in the production of goods and services.  Their findings could solve important economic problems important to topics in economics during that time.  They could be used to solve problems such as what goods should be produced, what methods of production should be used and how much of current production should be consumed and how much should be reserved to create new resources for future production and consumption[3].  Kantorovich describes his book as containing a broad discussion of the optimal approach to economic problems such as planning, pricing, rent valuations, stock efficiency and decentralization of decisions[4]


This topic was very useful for practical application.  It showed economic planners a new relationship between productive inputs and production results[5].  Kantorovich also explained from the approach of linear programming how economic planning in Russia could be improved.  He demonstrated the connection between the allocation of resources and the price system at a certain point in time and in a growing economy.  This was important because it showed how the possibility of decentralizing decisions in a planned economy is dependent on the existence of a rational price system[6].  However, later Hayek contradicted this idea by proving that prices can only be used if there is a price system.  A price system is a characteristic of a capitalist economy- markets and private property.  Kantorovich discussed another aspect of the socialist versus capitalist economies: that they should take into account the future as well as the present and therefore use the interest rates in the same way as capitalist economies.


Kantorovich's research and discoveries were important to the economics of Russia.  He showed that centrally planned economies had to take into account prices when allocating resources.  Since Russia was at that time centrally planned, this idea suggested that the for the resources to be allocated the most efficiently, the central planners should consider the prices, which was not typically done before.  Even though Hayek later disproved this, Kantorovich's suggestion was used by those who arguing for a capitalist economy in Russia.  Even though Kantorovich was not necessarily in favor of or against socialism, his finding on interest rates brought up discussions on comparisons of the socialist and capitalist economies[7].  Kantorovich's findings were used all across the world; however, his national country was his principle influence in research this idea of the topic. 


Kantorovich is most well known for his studies in the application of mathematical methods in economics.  He was contributed much to the study of functional analysis and numerical analysis, which he published many papers on.  Later in his life he became interested in computer architecture.  After teaching in Leningrad, in 1960 he became director of mathematical economic methods at the Siberian Division of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1971 he was appointed laboratory chief of the Institute of National Economic Management in Moscow. 


Works Cited


Kantorovich, Leonid Vitalevich.  Autobiography for Nobel Prize.

Kantorovich, Leonid Vitalevich.  Functional Analysis, Optimization, and Mathematical economics : Collection of Papers Dedicated to the Memory of Leonid Vitalevich Kantorovich.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1990. 

 Kantorovich, Leonid Vitalevich.  L. V. Kantorovich : Essays in Optimal Planning.  Translated: Arlo Schultz.  White Plains, N.Y. :  International Arts and Sciences Press, 1976. 

 Press Release.  The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.  14 October 1975. 


[1] Autobiography

[2] Autobiography

[3] Press Release

[4] Autobiography 

[5] Press Release

[6] Press Release

[7] Press Release





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