Happy hundreth birthday, Leonid

Happy birthday to Leonid Kantorovich, the man who nearly made the Soviet centralised economy work. He applied principles of linear programming in early computation to the economy in an attempt to ensure sustainable, consistent growth in the chaos of an anti-competitive system.

The guy was something of a radical in Stalinist Russia, who just managed to avoid being disappeared or arrested at every turn. Not through any guile or cunning, by all accounts he was a typically good-humoured but bumbling academic, but simply luck. He was once booed out of a meeting of Jewish academics for being too young minuted before it was raided by the secret services during the waves of state-sponsored anti-semitism in the thirties.

He was a certified genius - the only Soviet economist to win a Nobel prize. He almost single-handedly took economics from a group of ideologies to a set of mathematical models in the wake of the computer science that tore through the USSR in the late fifties. But the computer, like his theories were undervalued by the Politburo and by the mid-sixties a policy of literally reverse engineering and copying whatever IBM produced was adopted, forcing them significantly behind.

Mainly, his work was never made policy because it relied on assigning a value to product based on it's scarcity and demand - a capitalist principle and something he called 'shadow value' rather than the value of the labour and the materials that go into it as Soviet economics since Stalin had dictated. As a result his ideas were never fully adopted and the economy continued to sink until the discovery of the oilfields in the seventies.

But here was the guy who almost - just almost - made it all work and today he'd be one hundred and perhaps be living the Soviet utopia of his dreams. Happy birthday Leonid Kantorovich.