Baer's Market: UI professor leads the pack in Brazilian economics

By Isabella Lilley

Eyeglasses angled, nestled in the slight curvature of his upper nose, the professor snatched a book from the jumbled, room-length bookshelf strewn with reference books in English and Portuguese. From his accumulation of scattered soon-to-be-edited articles and manuscripts, he retrieved a copy of his latest work, The Brazilian Economy: Growth and Development.EJ

Professor Werner Baer, the Jorge Lemann Professor of Economics at the University, has contributed to the economic world in ways rarely noted by his studentsEJ. Through the endowment of the Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies, within the Center for Latin American Studies, the Harvard graduate is one of only two chairs to regularly receive funds for personal research, following an endowment by a Brazilian industrialist.EJ

This grant was not given unfairly. Baer, 84, who specializes in the economies of Latin America, specifically Brazil, has worked tirelessly alongside numerous colleagues to understand the high levels of inflation and income inequality that have plagued Latin American countries for decades. And more noticeably, the professor, who speaks English, Spanish, Portugese, French and German, has become a recruiter and mentor for students who choose to pursue graduate degrees in economics.EJ

Baer, who earned his Ph.D. in Economics, decided to specialize in Brazilian studies due to his interest in its people.

“I just like Latin America. I like the Latins. What I like about them, especially about Brazil, is that they’re happy people,” he said. “They have a tremendous sense of humor, which I like…and, to a certain extent, Brazil is like the United States. Especially the southern part of Brazil. It’s full of immigrants … I especially believe in immigrant economies.”

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Baer, who visits Brazil every summer, founded the Brazilian Association in Graduate Studies of Economics. According to Dr. Carlos Azzoni, a colleague of Baer’s, and dean of the School of Economics at São Paulo University in Brazil, Baer’s influence has had an astronomical effect on the teaching methods of Brazilian universities.EJ

“In Brazil, (Professor Baer) is very important in the sense of what he established. When he started coming here, we were on the French tradition or European tradition of courses. More reflection, more reading, fewer classes,” Azzoni said. “So when he came to Brazil, we had graduate student studies only scattered in some places. There was nothing organized. So he was fundamental in putting that together.”

For the past 25 years, Baer and Azzoni have organized summer workshops for University students to study Brazilian economics in São Paulo. Through his orchestration of these programs, in addition to his connections with the economics department heads of numerous Latin American universities, Baer has had the opportunity to encourage students in pursuing degrees in economics.

According to Azzoni, Professor Baer influenced nearly 500 students in attaining a Ph.D. in Economics. Among those instructed by Baer, either in undergraduate or graduate programs, include the heads of the Brazilian, Colombian and Paraguayan Central Banks, as well as Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador.EJ

Even with this success, as Azzoni humorously pointed out, Baer still chooses to fly economy instead of business class for every visit to Brazil.

“He’s very modest. He’s a picture of excellence. He’s a one hundred percent teacher…he’s generous and available,” Azzoni said. “Anyone that wants to talk to him will be received with respect.”

For Baer, this success is just about doing what he loves.

“I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy students, I enjoy my research, I enjoy traveling. So, I’m doing precisely what I like,” he said.

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