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A thinker of development

Wilson Cano was one of the founders of the UNICAMP Institute of Economics and a scholar of industrialization in Brazil

The researcher in 1998: 14 books published

Lalo de Almeida / Folhapress

São Paulo economist Wilson Cano, a scholar of industrialization and the relationship between economic development and regional and urban imbalances in Brazil, died on April 3rd at the age of 82. He was recovering from pancreatic cancer and suffered a heart attack. A researcher at the Institute of Economics of the University of Campinas (IE-UNICAMP), Cano authored 14 books and helped train several generations of UNICAMP students, having advised more than 60 masters and PhD students. His disease led him to need surgery two years ago, but Cano continued to teach the graduate course Economic Development until 2019. He had recently launched a website containing his scientific writings (

The youngest of six children of Spanish immigrant parents, Cano obtained his undergraduate degree in Economics from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). In 1962, he took a graduate course in Economic Planning and Development organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in São Paulo, where he met professors that became very influential in his training, such as Maria da Conceição Tavares, Carlos Lessa, and the Chilean Aníbal Pinto Santa Cruz (1913–1996). He soon joined the ECLAC office in Rio de Janeiro.

In late 1967, he was one of the researchers selected by UNICAMP to establish its Department of Economic Planning (DEPE). Other names linked to the ECLAC course had also been hired, such as Luiz Gonzaga Belluzzo, João Manuel Cardoso de Mello, and Osmar Marchese. DEPE gave rise to the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences (IFCH) at UNICAMP, from which the Institute of Economics would branch out in the 1980s. The work produced in the 1950s and 1960s by ECLAC on the development of Latin America began a school of economic thought defined by the critical analysis of orthodox theory (see Pesquisa FAPESP – UNICAMP 50th Anniversary Special Edition).

Industrial concentration
His PhD thesis, which he defended in 1975, traced the origins of industrial concentration in the state of São Paulo back to the beginning of the twentieth century, with the spread of coffee growing and the ensuing economic development of the state—and not to changes in the capital accumulation pattern after the 1929 crisis, as commonly assessed at the time. Published in book form in 1977, Raízes da concentração industrial em São Paulo [The roots of industrial concentration in São Paulo] is currently in its fifth edition.

“Wilson Cano was an exemplary researcher,” claims economist Carlos Américo Pacheco, a professor at IE-Unicamp, whose PhD thesis was advised by Cano in 1996. “His book Roots of industrial concentration in São Paulo is a classic. It reveals, like few other works, the relationship between the coffee economy, industry, and urbanization. It will always be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the economy of São Paulo and Brazil at the beginning of the twentieth century,” declares Pacheco, who is Chief Executive Officer of the FAPESP Executive Board.

Cano was director of the IFCH during the second half of the 1970s; he was also a member of the FAPESP Board of Trustees from 1990 to 1997. After his retirement, in 2008, he continued to teach and advise graduate students through CEDE. His work incorporated a concern for urban and regional development, which is a field of research at CEDE. One of Cano’s qualities often mentioned by his students was his unyielding insistence in not letting any one of them give up—to the point where he would bring students to his country house, where they would stay until they finished writing their papers. Wilson Cano is survived by his wife, Selma Maria Schwarzer Cano, their three children, and six grandchildren.