The basic calculation that Benson does is this:
An income of about $50,000 a year lets you live a comfortable middle-class life.
However, earning $50,000 a year takes quite a bit of work.
Suppose, instead, you earned about $30,000 a year, and then didn’t pay taxes?
Depending on where you live, the net income works out to be about the same.
As Benson puts it, “Personally, I have always found it much easier to earn 30 grand than 50!”
The book begins with the basics of operating in the underground economy:
You work for cash, you avoid having a bank account, you leave no paper trail.
(There’s also a comparison with less-drastic tax cheats who, for example, pocket cash payments while paying taxes as usual on payments by check or credit card.)
There’s a discussion of the practical aspects of running a business that can’t be accredited or bonded, and has to be very careful about advertising or otherwise drawing attention to itself.
The bulk of the book, though, is a series of case studies of specific people working in the underground economy.
There’s a section about a man who cuts up and delivers firewood.
Another finds fossils and sells them to schools and scientific supply companies.
Another gathers pine cones for sale to tree nurseries.
There’s a chapter on service work like house cleaning and pet care.
There’s a chapter on skilled work like carpentry, gunsmithing, or chimney sweeping.
The book wraps up with a look at some of the downsides of the underground economy, such as the difficulty in getting medical insurance and not qualifying for social security or medicare.