John Sayad (1945 -2021)

Joan Miró, Rope and people, I, 1935.


Considerations on the singularity of the recently deceased economist

João Sayad had a career that would make anyone envious. After a doctorate at Yale (USA), he was a full professor at the Faculty of Economics at USP, FEA, when he was not yet 40 years old. Also very young, he was Finance Secretary in the first democratically elected government in the State of São Paulo after the 1964 coup (Franco Montoro government) and Minister of Planning in the first post-dictatorship civil government (Sarney government); he was a partner in a bank, finance secretary for the Municipality of São Paulo, state secretary for Culture, vice president of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) in Washington (USA), and president of TV Cultura. An amazing resume, with success in all roles, as a public figure, as a businessman, as an academic.

But there was never even a shadow of pride in him, which he could well have had, for all these accomplishments, for his brilliant trajectory; even less any trace of arrogance and arrogance that usually mark people considered important, prominent economists. No. Sayad was a sweet, affable, considerate person, incapable of mistreating anyone, even if the creature deserved it.

Don't think, however, that this finesse in dealing hid a calm subject, because indifferent to things, on the contrary; He threw himself headlong into projects, wanted to see things happen, was outraged by injustices, was passionate about São Paulo and his country – which he often saw with discouragement and sadness, but that gave him more strength to try new paths. In the 1990s, irritated by the simplistic and shallow thinking of newly arrived PhDs on the dilemmas of our economy, he said that no public spending on education should be cut, except that of scholarships for Brazilian students who were going to do a doctorate in Economics in the USA. A little further on, he didn't hesitate to say which bank really should be nationalized.

The arrogance deficit was not, however, the only trait that distinguished him from his economist peers. Sayad had a peculiar way of understanding economics. With a broad intellectual horizon, he was interested in and read practically all the time, not only articles and economic skirmishes, but everything related to art, philosophy, the human sciences. His Keynesian profession of faith was therefore mixed and enriched with a host of other important and often decisive considerations.

Money, for example, one of his most beloved objects of study, was something that challenged him: none of the economic theories fully satisfied his desire to understand it. Unlike the monetarist Milton Friedman, for whom it was not necessary to know what money is, Sayad did not give up until he found a clue to this understanding in anthropology: for him, money is a myth, whose functionality depends on the faith of those who use it. Only those who were present can, not without laughing, remember the astonished and disgusted faces of an audience full of economists and executives, when he said something similar to that at an event in São Paulo, one morning in the early 2000s.

We had the privilege of living with this very special economist, with this very unusual intellectual, as colleagues at the University of São Paulo and in charge of the São Paulo City Hall Finance Department. It is impossible to forget that, in the midst of so many tribulations, in the midst of so many skeletons that we found in the cupboards, in the midst of the difficulties in recovering the weakened municipal finances after the Malufista disaster, some of the times when, in response to the secretary’s call, we went to his office , the question that followed was like: what did Hegel really say about the Concept?

*Fernando Haddad is a professor of political science at USP. He was Minister of Education and Mayor of São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Work and language: towards the renewal of socialism (Quicksilver).

**Leda Maria Paulani is a senior professor at FEA-USP. Author, among other books, of Modernity and economic discourse (Boitempo). []

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