six things: Helen Joyce

Helen Joyce

About Helen

Helen Joyce is The Economist’s Brazil Bureau Chief, based in São Paulo. Between 2005 and 2009 she was the paper’s education correspondent, based in London, before which she edited Plus, an online magazine about mathematics, for the University of Cambridge, and Significance, the quarterly magazine of the Royal Statistical Society. She has a BA in mathematics from Trinity College Dublin, and a PhD in geometric measure theory from University College London.

The views expressed here are entirely her own.

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

Being here. The day will come when I don’t get out of bed at all.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

Pessimism. The previous editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott, used the phrase “paranoid optimism” to describe his view of things: the belief that things have got a great deal better and can continue to do so, but only at the price of eternal vigilance. When I first read that I realised that I am a cheerful pessimist. My emotional range is limited: it goes from happy through snappish through irritated to raging. I rarely feel sad. That’s only a mood thing; I guess I was born that way, and I’m grateful for it. It’s certainly not a consequence of my world view, which is entirely bleak. I don’t believe in an after-life, and though I recognise that natural selection makes for some very interesting stories, they are all short, and end badly.

Being this way means that though I usually wake up in a sunny mood, I’m always surprised when things work out. I would be no good as an entrepreneur.

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

To write. I love my job because I get to go interesting places and meet interesting people, who tell me interesting things. Every day I understand something new. But then I have to write about it all, which is just so damn difficult. Still, it’s amazing what you can do if you just keep trying—which I suppose is the meta-lesson.

• One thing that gets under my skin

The phrase: “Do you know who I am?” It sums up the aristocrat, whose power comes not from what he does but who he is, and I hate it and everything it implies about the person who uses it.

• One thing I’d love to change

Brazil’s labour laws. They were inspired by fascist Italy in the 1940s, and it would be harder to imagine a more self-defeating way to try to protect employees’ rights. They make it so expensive to hire that they put businesses off doing so, and tempt them to pay under the table when they do. They are a big reason why Brazil has one of the world’s highest rates of job turnover, and consequently why so few employers invest in training their staff and why labour productivity is so low.

• One thing I hope for

That my children live longer than me. I told you I tend to look on the dark side.

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.