Intellectuals & Academics » Economists » GERARD DEBREU
|Full name||: Gerard Debreu|
|Alias||: Gerard Debreu|
|Animals||: The Rooster|
|Father||: Camille Debreu|
|Mother||: Fernande Decharne Debreu|
|Wife||: Françoise Bled|
|Children||: Chantal, Florence|
|Education||: University of California Berkeley University of Paris École Normale Supérieure|
Gerard Debreu was an economist born in France who became famous for his path breaking work in general equilibrium theory. A humble man, he was also justly noted for his gracious and polite attitude towards people. In economic circles and government policies, his work had a profound impact. Throughout his life he was recognized with various awards with the Nobel Prize being the most sterling jewelry in his illustrious career. He brought about a mathematical precision to economics, mostly in the theory of supply and demand. He also introduced new paths for various researchers to pursue by bringing into light the idea of ‘quasi-equilibrium’, the idea of relation between goods and their monetary value which can be represented as a linear space and many more such theories. He was a prominent person with keen interest in human rights, and a childish sense of humor. Debreu was also very interested in politics. His students remember him for his playful nature while his colleagues treasure his sense of elegance.
1940 – 1949
When Germany occupied France in 1940, the occupation forces divided the country into several ‘free zones’. So, he spent that academic year studying Mathematiques Speciales curriculum at Grenoble, which was declared a ‘free-zone’ like Ambert. After a year at Grenoble Lycee, he went to Ecole Normale Superieure where he stayed for three years until the spring of 1944. He was heavily influenced by Henri Carton, his teacher and also N. Bourbaki who indirectly developed his taste in mathematics. The time at the Ecole Normale Superieure was a stimulating experience for young Gerard as he was surrounded by an intellectual environment and protected from the War.
In order to complete his studies he wanted to undertake the Aggregation de Mathematiques but D-Day arrived and instead of taking the final examination, he enlisted in the French army. He was sent to an officer school in Algeria for training and later was sent to join the French occupational force in Germany, serving there till July 1945. In the beginning of 1946, as soon as the war ended, he completed his final examination from the University of Paris. At the same time he began to develop a keen interest in economics and after he read a book called “A la Recherche d'une Discipline Économique” by Maurice Allais, he decided to make it his lifelong pursuit. He was particularly motivated on reading the mathematical theory of general economic equilibrium founded by Leon Walras, which was formulated by Allais in the book. He then spent almost two and a half years training himself for transition from a mathematics background to economics.
In 1948, Gerard Debreu regularly attended the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies where Wassily Leontief was a part of the faculty. During the final days of that year he received a Rockefeller Fellowship, which allowed him to visit many noted universities in America like the Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago and the Columbia University as well as two universities in Sweden and Norway. During his stay at Salzburg, he studied all the recent scientific developments that occurred that had been cut off from France during the war.
Another important development was that at the end of the year 1949, just as he was about to leave for the University of Chicago, the Cowles Commission for research in Economics at the University offered him the position of Research Associate. He was extremely glad at this offer, to say the least, as the Commission provided the perfect environment for the type of research he wanted to pursue. So, from 1950 onwards, Debreu’s association with the Cowles Commission lasted for a full eleven years.
1950 – 1959
The Cowles Commission surpassed all expectations of Debreu as he found himself in the midst of frantic discussions, debates and research focusing on mathematical economics. He was able to interact and exchange ideas with other research staff in various meetings and seminars. Debreu devoted all his time and focus in his research on Pareto optima, on utility theory and on the existence of a general economic equilibrium. Needless to say, his work progressed very quickly.
In 1953, he published with Kenneth Arrow an article on contingent commodities where the authors introduced a very famous concept now known as the “Arrow-Debreu security”, which is frequently used in financial economics. He also actively began to study economic uncertainty. His work in this field was later published in the last section of his monograph, Theory of Value, in the year 1959.
After the Cowles Commission shifted from the University of Chicago to the Yale University in the summer of 1955, Debreu completed an article on market equilibrium and also a monograph in which he discussed an axiomatic analysis of the general economic equilibrium theory. At Yale, he also worked in other problems in the theory of cardinal utility.
From 1960 to 1961, Gerard Debreu spent his time mostly at Stanford at the Centre for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, researching and developing a complex proof of a general theorem on the existence of economic equilibrium which was published in 1962. In January, the same year, he accepted an offer to join the University of California, Berkeley. Here he worked on the ‘core convergence’ of a replicated economy, a work in continuation to that of Herbert Scarf, which led to the publication of a joint paper in 1963. He was also deeply interested in the “theory of measure spaces of economic agents”, which originated in a paper by Robert J. Aumann in 1964.
1968 - 1991
In 1968, he had turned his interest towards regular economics and all his questions remained unanswered until when he visited University of Canterbury in Christchurch (New Zealand) in 1969 from June to July. His research work during the seventies and the eighties focused mainly on the ‘study of differentiable utility functions, on the rate of convergence of the core of an economy to its set of competitive equilibria, on the characterization of the excess demand function of an economy, on the problem of least concave utility functions and on additive decomposed quasi-convex functions’.
Gerard Debreu became a naturalized US Citizen in 1975 and the next year, he received the French Legion of Honor. The most important award that he received is the Nobel Prize for economics in the year 1983 for his conceptualization of the general equilibrium theories. In the year 1990, he was appointed as the President of the American Economic Association. Gerard Debreu was an active researcher as well a teacher throughout his life till his retirement. Besides that, he also travelled quite often throughout Europe lecturing on economic theory. He also held the position of economic advisor to several governments.
Gerard Debreu was born to Camille Debreu and Fernande Debreu, in Calais, France, in 1921. Camille Debreu worked along with his father-in law as a business partner in the traditional lace manufacturing industry in Calais. Gerard’s paternal grandfather had a printing plant that he managed to run, located in a small town of Marquise until his retirement. He did most of his schooling in his native city and completed his Baccalaureate in the year 1939 when France was sucked into the Second World War. Because of the war, he couldn’t prepare for the entrance exam to the scientific grandes ecoles in Paris, so, he studied an improvised version of the Mathematiques Speciales Preparatories curriculum, in Ambert from 1939 to
Gerard Debreu married Francoise Bled in June 1945. They had two daughters, Chantal, born in 1946 and Florence, born in 1950. Gerard Debreu passed away at the age of 83, in Paris on New Year eve, 2004, and was buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.
Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1949-50)
Guggenheim Fellowship, 1968-69
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1970
Member of the National Academy of Sciences, 1977
Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, 1982
Nobel Prize for Economics, 1983
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1984
Member of the American Philosophical Society, 1984
French Legion of Honor, 1993