Wassily Leontief and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1941‐54

Martin Kohli


A number of different interpretations of the development of input-output analysis exist. Some observers have argued that the Bureau of Labor Statistics merely tabulated data in accordance with Wassily Leontief's theories. This paper evaluates such claims by examining the classifications and definitions used by Leontief and the Bureau in the early tables. Such an examination leads to the conclusion that the Bureau made a number of significant refinements to Leontief's original framework. The Bureau-modified table proved to be a valuable tool for assessing the accuracy of the GNP aggregates, and this prompted the Budget Bureau to institutionalize the making of input-output tables. Furthermore, the Bureau's work with Leontief had a number of effects on the agency itself. As a result of this work, the Bureau treated some of its price, quantity, and value measurements as part of a new framework;a consistent system of national economic accounts;and this revealed inadequacies in the statistical design of at least one program. To this day, statistical agencies continue to try to develop consistent measures of prices and quantities, using the framework pioneered by Leontief.