August 7, 1868|
Saint Petersburg, Imperial Russia
|Died||July 15, 1931
|Institutions||University of Berlin 1901–31 Professor
Alexandrowskii Lyceum 1899–00
Russian Railways 1897–01
University of Strasbourg, 1895–1897 Privatdozent
|Alma mater||University of Strasbourg, Habilitation 1895
University of Göttingen, Ph.D. 1893
University of Saint Petersburg 1890
|Doctoral advisor||Georg Friedrich Knapp (Habil.)
Wilhelm Lexis (Ph.D.)
|Doctoral students||Wassily Leontief|
|Known for||Poisson distribution
|Influences||Karl Marx, Vladimir Karpovich Dmitriev|
Ladislaus Josephovich Bortkiewicz (August 7, 1868 – July 15, 1931) was an economist and statistician of Polish ancestry, who lived most of his professional life in Germany, where he taught at Strassburg University (Privatdozent, 1895–1897) and Berlin University (1901–1931). He was of minor nobility; for his earlier publication he used the German style "von" as Ladislaus von Bortkewitsch, and for his later publications changed it slightly to Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz.
In 1898 he published a book about the Poisson distribution, titled The Law of Small Numbers. In this book he first noted that events with low frequency in a large population follow a Poisson distribution even when the probabilities of the events varied. It was that book that made the Prussian horse-kick data famous. The data give the number of soldiers killed by being kicked by a horse each year in each of 14 cavalry corps over a 20-year period. Bortkiewicz showed that those numbers follow a Poisson distribution. The book also examined data on child-suicides. Some have suggested that the Poisson distribution should have been named the "Bortkiewicz distribution."
Bortkiewicz attempted to predict how many pieces of artillery would overheat during an intensive battle. He failed because of his limited knowledge of thermodynamics and metallic composition of cannons.
In political economy, Bortkiewicz is important for his analysis of Karl Marx's reproduction schema in the last two volumes of Capital. Bortkiewicz identified a transformation problem in Marx's work. Making use of Dmitriev's analysis of Ricardo, Bortkiewicz proved that the data used by Marx was sufficient to calculate the general profit rate and relative prices. Though Marx's transformation procedure was not correct—because it did not calculate prices and profit rate simultaneously, but sequentially—Bortkiewicz has shown that it's possible to get the correct results using the marxian framework, i.e. using the marxian variables constant capital and variable capital it is possible to obtain the profit rate and the relative prices in a 3 sector model. This "correction of the Marxian system" has been the great contribution of Bortkiewicz to classical and Marxian economics but it was completely unnoticed until Paul Sweezy's 1942 book "Theory of Capitalist Development". Piero Sraffa (1960) has provided the complete generalization of the simultaneous method for classical and Marxian analysis.
Bortkiewicz died in Berlin, Germany. His papers, including a voluminous correspondence file (some 1,000 letters 1876–1931), are deposited at Uppsala University in Sweden, except for his correspondence with Léon Walras which went into the collection of the Walras scholar William Jaffe in the USA.
Major publications 
- Die mittlere Lebensdauer. Die Methoden ihrer Bestimmung und ihr Verhältnis zur Sterblichkeitsmessung. Gustav Fischer, Jena 1893 (Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum)
- "Review of Léon Walras, Éléments d'économie politique pure, 2e édit.", 1890, Revue d'économie politique
- Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen, 1898
- "Wertrechnung und Preisrechnung im Marxschen System", 1907, Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.
- "On the Correction of Marx's Fundamental Theoretical Construction in the Third Volume of Capital."
- Die Iterationen, spanish version 1917
- Value and Price in the Marxian System, 1952, IEP.
- "Die Rodbertus'sche Grundrententheorie und die Marx'sche Lehre von der absoluten Grunderenten, from Die Archiv fur die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, 1910-11"
See also 
- Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz, Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen [The law of small numbers] (Leipzig, Germany: B.G. Teubner, 1898). On page 1, Bortkiewicz presents the Poisson distribution. On pages 23-25, Bortkiewicz presents his famous analysis of "4. Beispiel: Die durch Schlag eines Pferdes im preussischen Heere Getöteten." (4. Example: Those killed in the Prussian army by a horse's kick.). On pages 17-20 Bortkiewicz presents his analysis of "1. Beispiel: Die Selbstmorde von Kindern in Preussen." (1. Example: Suicides of children in Prussia.). Bortkiewicz's book is reviewed in: L. v. Bortkewitsch (1898) "Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen," Monatshefte für Mathematik, vol. 9, pages 39-41.
- p.e. I J Good, Some statistical applications of Poisson's work, Statist. Sci. 1 (2) (1986), 157–180. JSTOR link
- L.v.Bortkiewicz Archiv, Manuskript & Musik Abteilung, Universitätsbibliothek Uppsala,
- Joseph Schumpeter: Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz, Economic Journal, Vol. 42 (1932), pp. 338–340, reprinted in: Ten great economists from Marx to Keynes (New York, 1960), pp. 302–305
- Emil Julius Gumbel: Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences 2 (New York, 1968), pp. 128–131. Freely available online at StatProb
- Paul A. Samuelson. Resolving a Historical Confusion in Population Analysis. Human Biology, 48, 1976: S. 559–580.
- Biographical sketch on the web site of the University of St. Andrews (in Scotland)
- Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz from encyclopedia.com
- New School: Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz