The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Bertrand, Joseph Louis François (1822–1900)

  • Martin Shubik
Reference work entry


Bertrand was born and died in Paris. He was an eminent but not great mathematician, graduate and professor of mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique and from 1862 to 1900 a member of the Collège de France. His relevance to economic thought comes in his criticism of ‘pseudo-mathematicians’ in the Journal des Savants (1883) where he reviewed Théorie mathématique de la richesse sociale of Walras and Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie des richesses of Cournot. It is doubtful if Bertrand considered the problems of formal economic modelling more than casually, viewing the two works through the eyes of a mathematician with little substantive interest or understanding. His comments on Cournot were not only somewhat harsh, but as the subsequent developments in oligopoly theory and the theory of games have shown, both Cournot’s model of duopoly and Bertrand’s remodelling of duopoly with price rather than quantity as a strategic variable are worth investigation. Cournot’s model has been (until recently) more generally treated than Bertrand’s model. It remained for Edgeworth to point out the limitations of Bertrand’s model (see Shubik 1959). Bertrand also raised objections to the reference and realism of the process description of Walras of ‘tâtonnement’.


Bertrand, J. L. F. Cournot, A. A. Duopoly Edgeworth, F. Y. Mathematical economics Tâtonnement Walras, L. 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Shubik
    • 1
  1. 1.