Wilson Cano

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Joelson Gonçalves de Carvalho*

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

I hope that much is said and written about Professor Wilson Cano, one of the founding intellectuals of what is now called the Institute of Economics at the State University of Campinas (IE/Unicamp), who left us on the afternoon of April 03rd. Some testimonials and reports are already circulating on social networks. Many bring the authority of longtime friendship, others the legitimacy of closeness in recent times. All tributes are and will be very welcome, as the importance of this intellectual in the genesis and consolidation of critical and autonomous thinking about the Latin American and Brazilian economy in general terms and for the dynamics of the regional and urban economy in Brazil is unquestionable. more specifically.

My last conversation with Wilson Cano was in September 2015. I didn't have any special proximity status: I was one of his many students and one of his advisees. It is in this condition that I would like to add these lines to the many tributes already written about Wilson Cano.

I first met Professor Cano through his writings. His classic book, Roots of industrial concentration in São Paulo (Difel, 1977), was mandatory reading for undergraduate students in Economic Sciences at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU). In those days, UFU had many professors who had passed through Unicamp's Institute of Economics and, under that influence, directed their courses and inspired their students. Inspired, I wanted to know the source: I went to do a master's and doctorate in Economic Development at Unicamp's IE. There I had classes with Wilson Cano in these two moments, which lasted from 2001 to 2011. To my satisfaction, he accepted to supervise me in my doctorate.

Intellectually, it would be unthinkable to try to summarize their contributions here. It is only worth mentioning that his explanation for regional disparities, more visible in the post-1930 period, although convincing, did not please everyone. Its central argument, to a certain extent, blamed the State of São Paulo for its concentration of economic activities, notably industrial ones. Not infrequently, I heard colleagues with other references and academic and intellectual influences, accusing him of being “São Paulo centrist”.

Critics, in their eagerness to manifest disagreement, lost the opportunity to have a deeper and more intertwined understanding. If this entity called “Sao Paulo” was not to blame, who was? In response, Wilson Cano showed all his erudition, not becoming absorbed in economism: according to him, among other factors, we needed to understand the conservatism of the national elites in blocking agrarian reform.

My experience with Wilson Cano makes me want to highlight some memories that show him as the generous and tireless man that he is (at present). Wilson Cano's generosity was perhaps not his most recognized characteristic, but without a doubt, it was the one that most impressed me personally, even despite one of the many dialogues we had like the one I reproduce, when I was in the writing phase of my thesis doctorate: – Professor, I send you this first version of my chapter, it's not very good, but it's for your appreciation. – If you yourself think it's not good, why do you think I have to waste my time reading it?

When we, his master's and doctoral advisees in those early years of the 2000s, talked about situations like this, we saw that we all had something similar (or more embarrassing) to tell. But seriousness was far from the memory that stayed, at least not for me. I don't know if it was out of pity or amazement, when he found out that I was the son of a farm worker and a baker and that, to make matters worse, I didn't have a master's scholarship, I don't know where, he found me a job: to help him with any search. He gave me tasks compatible with my studies and paid me the amount compatible with a scholarship. Of course, this was fundamental for me to be able to finish my master's degree and move on.

Cano enjoyed hanging out with colleagues and students at the bar. When I was in Campinas, the obligatory bar for after school was Bar da Coxinha, in Barão Geraldo. There, he put aside his commonplace seriousness and broke into smiles, among the teasing and mockery he liked to make with those who shared the table. At some point that I don't know exactly, but I know it was at the bar, a joke came out directed at me, as I was the only person from Minas Gerais at the table.

Someone said: – “Joelson, you know that Minas Gerais has three problems. Telemar, Itamar and not having a sea”. The joke, shouted with a strong intonation of the retroflex rre, could have been just a big laugh, but I amended it with an embarrassing truth to the colleagues at the table: “don't even tell me, I only went to the beach once”. Not long after, Wilson Cano called me into his office to lend me the key to his house in Ubatuba, giving me indications of the best route, in times when the waze did not exist.

Cano continued to work until his last days, even having retired in January 2008 – a retirement that only came compulsorily, when he turned 70. Even retired, Wilson Cano taught, guided, researched, wrote, gave lectures. As he himself once said in an interview with TV Unicamp [1]: “I stayed here at the house. As I didn't learn to fish in my life, I don't know how to do anything else, except to be a researcher and a professor, so I gladly accepted the invitation they made to me to become a collaborating professor”.

His generosity – as well as his tireless spirit – is shown in one of his latest initiatives: the creation of a personal website, in July 2019, with all his books, articles, lecture notes, course syllabi and other writings to access free and easy. There, right in the presentation, the reader is faced with the following information [2]: “It might seem strange that, twelve years after retiring, and more recently, after having undergone “heavy” surgery on the pancreas and a heart attack, I had decided to make a personal website”.

Yes, even after all that, Wilson Cano was active and working, but no, Master Cano, it doesn't seem strange. As you yourself pointed out, making all your work available will stimulate and help young researchers throughout Brazil and, thus, you remain tireless and generous. And there is no death that can put an end to it.

Wilson Cano, present!

*Joelson Gonçalves de Carvalho is professor of economics at the Department of Social Sciences at UFSCar.


[1] TV Unicamp. Scientific Memory. Wilson Cano: thought and trajectory. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sdXX1Qmyck&t=1911s.

[2] The website address is: https://www.wilsoncano.com.br/.

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