Who is really on the Shoulders of Who?

Af Anne Sofie Kryger-Rump, cand.merc.pol


This question is of course only interesting among the issues and cases, where there does not exist a clear chronology. And, it is precisely such type of question, which this article will concern.


It is definitely uncanny, however harmless, that we e.g. soon will celebrate Midsummer Day in Denmark, happily by burning witch dolls at the stake. Likewise, thankfully we live in a time, where the widely used, yet colonial sounding concepts, such as ‘the Third World’ and ‘Developing Countries’ are used in an uncanny way, as few people today will accept the premises of a hierarchy between different parts of the world. Or at least they will not accept the kind of parameters that formed the ground for this kind of division. As other kinds of parameters such as e.g. where humanity probably arose from etc. could justify, why other parts of the world should be labeled the ‘First World’. Yet, unfortunately these latter concepts are rarely questioned outside of academia, which can make them quite harmful.In our everyday life and in various media, concepts, which Nietzsche has described as ‘unheimlich’ or ‘uncanny’ are often used interchangeably. Especially, concepts within developmental discourses suffer from being deeply uncanny, or with another word, deeply anachronistic. Though, this need not be a problem in itself from a purely discursive point of view, as all terms in one way or another can be said to be “constructed and inscribed with meaning in discourse”[i], the consequences of this usage can be more or less harmful.

As stated, inherent in the terms, the Third World- and Developing Countries is a clear notion of which countries that belong between the so-called giants, the First and Developed World, accordingly, and which countries that are on their shoulders. However, one of the reasons why we have become so developed here in ’the Global North’ is unquestionable due to our former, but also current exploitation of many of the resources of developing countries in ’the Global South’ that in many ways reverse the causality of who is on the shoulders of who. By using the term current, I refer specifically to the lack of social responsibility, in terms of developing countries’ lost tax revenues, especially from Multinational Corporations (MNCs), which are absolutely crucial for every society, but in particular for developing countries (and another reason, why countries in the North have ‘developed’ their societies to become what they are today).

Moreover, lost revenues due to tax evasion can also be regarded as a form of ‘corrupted money’, as it is also a ‘stolen public asset’. Yet as Alvin Mosioma, the Executive Director of the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJN-A) pointed out[ii], hitherto it is only corruption in a narrow sense that has been problematized globally and not where the ‘corrupted money’ is placed, which ironically often is in countries that are supposed to be the least corrupted in the world (for more on this, see the Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) in ‘Tax Us If You Can – Why Africa should Stand up for Tax Justice’)[iii].

Mosioma further asserted “tax is the only sustainable way of financing development”, similarly emphasizing that “African countries are actually not poor”[iv]. However, as he noted, “for every dollar that flows into Africa in the form of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), there are 10 dollars flowing out through illicit flows”[v]. Here it is important to note that commercial tax evasion, (mainly through trade mispricing) constitute 60 to 65 percent of the global total of elicit flows, compared to e.g. corruption that comprises 3 percent[vi]. Moreover, to fight corruption resources are needed, which again bring forth the necessity of fair taxes.

Another comparison between the total annual amount of development aid of around 700 billion DKK, with the total amount of developing countries’ annual lost tax opportunities of around 900 Billion DKK , reveals equally absurdly that these countries loses much more money due to tax evasion and tax dodging especially by MNCs, than they gain for development.

Similar inquiries have shown that it is not only developing countries who forego vast amounts of lost tax revenues, where e.g. the EU loses around KR 7.500 billion annually due to tax evasion and tax dodging, according to the European Commission[vii]. This exorbitant amount has got the European politicians on their feet. Yet, what are really needed is global rather than regional agreements. First of all, because the consequences of lost tax revenues are most fatal for developing countries and secondly because ‘races to the bottom’ and ‘Nash equilibriums’ only can be avoided through global cooperation[viii].

As the non-profit organization ‘Economists Without Borders’ stresses, at present there are no economic incentives for an individual country to act against tax- havens, avoidance and evasion, as the risk of potential losses in the form of employment and low tax revenues totally outweighs solidarity. The recent Danish case, with the sale of Dong stakes to Goldman Sachs, can be seen as an example of this, where the Danish solidarity against tax havens and financial secrecy lost to a sober, economic rationale.

Hence, as an alternative to our categorizations of who is ‘developed and developing’, we should give every country a chance to actually develop sustainably, which has been and still is through taxation, the real Giant, whose shoulders have born and bear “all civilizations”[ix].  Therefore, instead of letting large corporations stand on the shoulders of our societies, we should make sure, through global agreements that they bear, as everybody else, a proportional burden on their shoulders too.

If you, dear reader, would like to show our politicians that there is public support for global agreements against tax evasion and tax dodging, please sign up for MS ActionAid’s TaxPower campaign at www.skattesnylter.dk and/or bring your mates to one of the bicycle demonstrations around in Denmark’s larger cities (23rd of May in Copenhagen), as well as voting for a European Parliament candidate that will work for this issue in the EU, after the 25th of May.



[i] Abrahamsen, R. (2000): Disciplining Democracy: Development Discourse and Good Governance in Africa. London and New York: Zed Books Ltd.

[ii] Lecture held at Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (MS) ActionAid Denmark, the 8th of March, 2014.

[iii] Tax Us If You Can – Why Africa should Stand up for Tax Justice, by TJN-A (2011): http://taxjusticeafrica.net/sites/default/files/Tax%20Us%20If%20You%20Can%20-%20Why%20Africa%20should%20Stand%20up%20for%20Tax%20Justice.pdf

[iv] Lecture held at Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke ActionAid Denmark, the 8th of March 2014.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Tax Us If You Can – Why Africa should Stand up for Tax Justice by TJN-A (2011)

[vii] Economists Without Borders, qouting the European Commission.

[viii] Economists Without Borders, lecture held at MS ActionAid Denmark, the 5th of April, 2014

[ix] Tax Us If You Can – Why Africa should Stand up for Tax Justice by TJN-A (2011)

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