Gerard Debreu 101: Explore the Nobel Winning Economist
Zatrun Published at March 18, 2023

Gerard Debreu was a renowned mathematician who was born on July 4, 1921 in Calais, France. Despite his family’s classical lace-making background, Debreu pursued a unique career in mathematics and economics. In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. If you are interested in learning more about Gerard Debreu’s life, keep reading this article on

Who is Gerard Debreu?

Gerard Debreu, a renowned French-born economist, and mathematician left a lasting impact on the field of economics with his ground-breaking work. Debreu received his baccalauréat diploma before the start of World War II and went on to receive a classical mathematics education at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, even during the Nazi occupation of France.

However, he was released by the Allies before his final exams in 1944 and went on to receive military training in Algeria. In 1945, Debreu passed the Agrégation de Mathématiques examination, which is equivalent to a master’s degree in French higher education and worked as an assistant at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique from 1946 to 1948. He became interested in economics, particularly in general equilibrium problems of the Walrasian type.

In 1948, he won a Rockefeller Fellowship, which allowed him to visit Uppsala in Sweden, Oslo in Norway, and various universities in the United States from 1949 to 1950. In 1950, he began working at the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago and was appointed to Yale University in 1955. He was married and had two daughters. He passed away in Paris on December 31, 2004, at the age of 83 and was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

His Career, Ideas and Works

Debreu’s work took him to many universities, including Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences in California in 1960-1961. He was appointed as a professor of economics and mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1962.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he visited European universities such as Leiden, Cambridge, Bonn, and Paris, and was awarded the Legion of Honor medal in France in 1975. In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Although Debreu specialized in mathematics, he was able to apply his knowledge to economics and expand the mathematical foundations of the field. In a paper he co-authored with American economist Kenneth Arrow in 1954, “Existence of an Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy,” he used topology methods to provide a mathematical proof of the general equilibrium concept in economics.

In his 1959 monograph, “Theory of Value: An Axiomatic Analysis of Economic Equilibrium,” he described the axiomatic foundations of competitive markets, examined the impact of uncertainty on general equilibrium models, and introduced the Arrow-Debreu security concept used in financial economics.

In 1962, he provided proofs for a more complex general equilibrium. He later worked on the theory of divisible economies, which demonstrated that excess demands functions can vanish at a finite number of points.

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