Homage to Wilson Cano

Image: Elyser Szturm
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By Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo*

Testimony about professor and economist Wilson Cano, who died on April 03, 2020.

In the economics department at Unicamp

The year was 1966. In the times and setbacks of the civil-military dictatorship, the then Secretary of Education of the Municipality of São Paulo, Fausto Castilho, took care to summon the ECLAC/Ilpes Economic Development Course to São Paulo. It was an “intensivão”, classes all day long, one test after another. Wilson taught design class. When the course ended, Antônio Barros de Castro, a magnificent teacher, said to Wilson Cano: “you are going to ECLAC”. Wilson agreed. Then, a reckless decision: he invited me to replace him at the Catholic University.

In 1967 came an invitation from Dean Zeferino Vaz, through Fausto Castilho. We were asked to create the Economic Planning department. Zeferino had a very creative and innovative spirit. We embark on the adventure, João Manuel Cardoso de Mello, Fausto Castilho, Ferdinando Figueiredo Lucas Gamboa, Osmar Marchese, Éolo Pagnani, our Wilson Cano and I. We founded the Department of Economics and Economic Planning, DEPE. Then it became DEPES – Economic and Social Planning, at UNICAMP. Zeferino had the courage to deliver this to boys aged between 24 and 30 years old for Wilson, apart from the 40 or so age of dean Ferdinando Figueiredo.

Later, in the 1970s, Maria da Conceição Tavares, Carlos Lessa, Antonio Barros de Castro Castro, Luciano Coutinho, José Carlos de Souza Braga, Liana Aureliano, Carlos Alonso Barbosa de Oliveira, Paulo Baltar, Jorge Miglioli, Sérgio Silva arrived. A little later, the great friend of friends, Frederico Mazzuchelli. Together we had the good fortune to witness the intellectual and physical development of Unicamp. We followed all of Unicamp's growth and the transformation of the university into what it is today. We had the good fortune to see it being born, growing, developing, differentiating itself. I say we because we were ourselves. I don't like to speak in the first person because it's not the case and it's not the truth.

Wilson Cano's work

Honoring my friend requires examining and celebrating the collective work he helped build.

The intellectual work developed at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences, by the founding professors of DEPES, has always been collective. The theses were discussed collectively, both the doctoral and the Habilitation ones. There was a very intense debate within the institute, and the theses were all made around these two themes: the development of contemporary capitalism and the situation of the Brazilian economy in this process. None of the surveys, in fact, escaped this milestone. Among them was Wilson's book, which I consider an impeccable example of ECLAC-Unicamp thinking: Roots of industrial concentration in São Paulo (Difel, 1977).

His work is vast and his vision has always been focused on the issues that trouble thinkers dedicated to the investigation of the Brazilian trajectory within the framework of global capitalism movements. Wilson, without a doubt, is indeed one of the main architects of “Unicamp thought”. Surely he would agree that we need to be more modest. What we have is a line of investigation that has made the Institute of Economics unique throughout history. This line, let's say, more influenced by the paradigm of political economy, economic and social history, led us to the public debate.

In fact, even today, the various nuclei of the Institute of Economics continue to develop these lines of research. Our approach is – and has always been – historical-theoretical, a revision effort must be permanent. We did not definitively crystallize a theoretical matrix, except for the general orientation that economics is a historical, social and moral science. Therefore, theory is always subject to the effects and influences of changing conditions in which economic life takes place. We reject this idea that we have an immutable theoretical matrix, from which all the transformations that occur in capitalism and in contemporary society can be explained.

A story might help to understand the collective adventure. In 1973, we organized the seminar Development and Technical Progress at the University. We invited several professors from abroad: Paolo Sylos Labini, Josef Steindl, Vladimier Brus, Edward Nell. In the closing session, foreigners went to the table. We were seated in the first rows: Antonio Barros de Castro, João Manuel Cardoso Mello, Ferdinando, Wilson Cano and me. At the table, Zeferino whispered something to Labini. Labini started to laugh and we didn't know why. After the seminar was over, I invited him to dinner in São Paulo in Baiuca. I asked why what the dean had said was so amusing. Labini told me with a laugh: “Do you see those over there? They are all communists, but they are good”.

* Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo is a full professor at the Institute of Economics (IE) at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). He is the author, among other books, of The scarcity in capitalist abundance (Countercurrent).

Article originally published in GGN newspaper.

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