Dr. Richard V. Gilbert, 83, a former Commerce Department and Office of Price Administration official who was an influential government economist in the days leading up to World War II, died Oct. 6 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He had cancer.

Dr. Gilbert came to Washington in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war in Europe.

He helped organize an economics staff in the office of Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins.

Hopkins, who was perhaps the most influential voice in the executive branch of the government next to the president himself, wanted to formulate policies that would both help the country recover from the recession of 1937 to 1938 and prepare the nation for a war economy.

Papers written or edited by Dr. Gilbert included early official opinions that it was the job of government to maintain prosperity. Dr. Gilbert also expressed the view that defense production could be rapidly and greatly expanded without disrupting civilian needs or demands. He disagreed with many prominent economists, including John Maynard Keynes, who believed that America would have to institute immediate wage and price controls, curtail public and consumer spending, and drastically increase taxes to accomplish war production.

Before this country's entry into the war, Dr. Gilbert argued that America's unused economic capacity should enable it to meet and exceed the highest war production goals. His defense output estimates were among the highest made by professional economists. They were proved right.

During the war, when wage and price controls were needed, Dr. Gilbert's tasks included the direction of economic research at OPA, where he was an adviser to Leon Henderson, Prentiss Brown, and Chester Bowles.

Dr. Gilbert left government service in 1945 and was an economic consultant in Washington until the early 1950s.

He later was a vice president of Schenley Industries in New York before joining the Harvard Economic Development Advisory Service in 1959. He directed its mission in Pakistan and later worked with the Pakistan Planning Commission.

Dr. Gilbert was born in New Jersey and earned bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in economics at Harvard University. Before coming to Washington, he had taught at Harvard and at Tufts University.

Survivors include his wife, Emma of Cambridge; two sons, Dr. Walter, also of Cambridge, and Dr. Alan, of Denver; a daughter, Dr. Joanne Schwartzberg of Chicago; a brother, Taft, of New York City; a sister, Nora Willig of Washington, and six grandchildren.