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Kantorovich, Leonid Vital’evich

(1912–1986), Soviet mathematician and economist, Nobel Prize laureate. Born into a family of physicians in Saint Petersburg, Kantorovich went right from his nine-year primary school to the Department of Physics and Mathematics of Leningrad State University. Upon graduation, he was asked to stay on in graduate school, which he completed in two years while also teaching at the Institute of Construction. In 1932 he became professor and department head at the Institute of Industrial Transport. That same year he was named assistant professor at Leningrad State University, becoming full professor in 1934.

In 1935, without having to defend a second dissertation, Kantorovich was awarded the degree of doctor of physical and mathematical sciences. His book Matematicheskie metody organizatsii i planirovaniia proizvodstva (Mathematical Methods of Organizing and Planning Production; 1939) developed an effective method for solving economic problems and opened a new field of applied mathematics. From 1940 to 1960 he worked at the Steklov Mathematics Institute of the Leningrad branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, simultaneously heading departments at Leningrad State University and the Advanced Engineering and Technical College. In 1958, Kantorovich became a corresponding and in 1964 a full member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

In 1958, together with Vasilii Sergeevich Nemchinov, he founded the Laboratory for the Application of Statistical and Mathematical Methods in Economics. In 1960 this laboratory moved to Novosibirsk, where it led to the establishment of the Central Mathematics Economics Institute (TsEMI) in Moscow in 1963 and the Mathematical Economics Department of the Siberian branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences Mathematics Institute, which Kantorovich headed until 1971. Throughout this period, Kantorovich maintained ties with scientific and economic institutes in Moscow. He moved there in 1971, working first as director of research at the Institute of National Economic Planning, and then, in 1976, as consultant to the State Committee for Science and Technology.

Kantorovich’s contributions to the fields of mathematics, economics, and cybernetics are set out in more than 300 papers and books. His principal findings are collected in monographs, for example, Metody priblizhennogo resheniia differentsial’nykh uravnenii v chastnykh proizvodnykh (Approximate Methods of Higher Analysis, written with V. I. Krylov; 1936 [trans. 1958]), and Funktsional’nyianaliz i prikladnaia matematika (Functional Analysis and Applied Mathematics; 1948).

Many of his Kantorovich’s innovative ideas encountered strong resistance from scientists unwilling to entertain new approaches, officials at Gosplan (the State Planning Committee), and the Communist party bureaucracy. In 1960, he was denounced in the magazine Kommunist. In response, many of his colleagues, led by academician Sergei L’vovich Sobolev, openly and strongly defended his ideas.

In 1965, Kantorovich shared the Lenin Prize with Nemchinov and Viktor Valentinovich Novozhilov for their work on the methodology of linear programming and economic models. In 1975, he shared the Nobel Prize in Economics with American economist Tjalling Koopmans, “for their contributions to the theory of optimum allocation of resources.”

In addition to academic awards and titles, Kantorovich received two Orders of Lenin, a Red Banner of Labor, an Order of the Badge of Honor, and other medals. He was elected honorary member of a number of foreign academies and scientific societies.

Suggested Reading

Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich, “Mathematics in Economics . . . Nobel Lecture,” Mathematical Programming 11 (1976): 204–211; Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich, “Avtobiografiia,” Optimizatsiia 28[45] (1982): 56–57; Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich, “Moi put’ v nauke,” Uspekhi matematicheskikh nauk 42.2 (1987): 183–213; V. L. Kantorovich, Semen Samsonovich Kutateladze, and Iakov Il’ich Fet, eds., Leonid Vital’evich Kantorovich: Chelovek i uchenyi, 2 vols. (Novosibirsk, Rus., 2002–2004).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson