Skip to the content

Deficit (Underskud)

DEFICIT is a thought-provoking book that is at once rigorous in its argument and very accessible, and which has already been compared to Jia Tolentino’s TRICK MIRROR in that it zooms in on the personal and on examples anchored in popular culture to highlight how economics have shaped a world in which there is no value attached to care and quality of living. It is a book about everything we take for granted and lose when we can’t measure its value.


Emma describes the book as a book about the value of care, using thoughts and analysis from the sphere of feminist economics. She adds:


‘It is set up as a bit as a mystery: how are we so rich yet feel so terrible? How are we at the very pinnacle of wealth and technological advancement, yet all political bodies seem completely inept at creating a care system that works for us and that takes our sensitivity into account?  I believe that the answer lies in who gets to define what is valuable, and therefore how society should be. In all parts of society, the economics way of thinking has a monopoly on value. As Oscar Wilde said of the cynic: they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. 


For the past few years, we have had a lot of good books about the endless ailments of capitalism, but I notice that in popular literature there has been very little about the study of economics and the role it plays in shaping our societies. The fact is that at decision level at the very top of the ladder, there is always at least one economist involved. If that is not the case, economists are the ones who get to decide whether the decisions taken are good or bad. Yet very few people understand the worldview that shapes their opinions.


In my book I track how, from its very beginnings in the Enlightenment, economics has looked down upon women and care work, and show how the early economists avoided analysing their own dependence on others, instead dreaming themselves as completely autonomous and masters of their own fate. They wanted to be like physicists, so they conjured up an image of society in which humans are cogs in a machine.  This individualisation has created a discipline that really has no way of accounting for the value that human beings create when they are together, both for society, but also for themselves. They simply do not know how to measure the value of care, collaboration, resting, art, learning, joy and natural processes. All these are deemed unscientific and therefore secondary. In a model where something cannot be measured, its price is set to zero. In short, it has no value.


I wanted to show how this worldview has led to a growing elimination of the things and activities that cannot be measured. This process has shaped our lives at home (we have less time for one another, there has been no real increase in leisure time since the mid-80s), at work (through constant evaluation of the individual rather than of the workplace as a collective), and at state level (the efficiency of public services is measured without human interaction being taken into account).  


Economists thought that they were describing the world, but in fact, they were shaping it.’

Author: Emma Holten
Publisher: Politiken
Territories: Finland: offer; France: offer; Germany: DTV; Netherlands: De Geus; Norway: Res Publica; Spain: Seix Barral/Planeta; Sweden: Bonniers
Other Emma Holten Titles