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.