MOONLIGHTING POPULAR IN DENMARK

Moonlighting appears to be more widespread in Denmark than ever before, despite efforts by the tax authorities to toughen their controls. The point has been reached where ministers and other high government officials openly admit that they do not know how to constrain black labor.

Appeals to people's moral feelings, though suggested every now and then, are doing no good. Isi Foighel, the minister responsible for taxes, is on record claiming, for instance, that a reduction of value added tax on construction jobs would not help. For even then the tax pressure would remain huge. There, of course, lies the principal root of the trouble.Because taxes are so high both sides in any moonlighting job do well. The customer pays a much lower price than he would otherwise, and the workman can

put whatever he gets into his pocket without bothering about the tax.

Jyllands Posten, a leading Danish paper, recently carried out a survey that showed the difference between hourly black" and white" pay rates. It showed that for under-the-counter" work no more than 30 percent to 40 percent of the customary official" rate was charged. Thus a baby-sitter might get between $1.50 and $3.50 an hour instead of $7.50; an electrician $8.50 to $10 instead of $24 to $26; an automobile mechanic $10 to $13 rather than $22 to $30 and so forth.

Naturally, there could be problems. The client who is dissatisfied with the repair job (or similarly where, as often happens, a second hand car is sold by black" dealers and then turns out to be defective) is in a weak position. For there will usually be no receipt. But given the very real savings, and the fact that often people simply cannot afford the official rates, such genuine risks are not much of a deterrent.

In 1984, the Social Research Institute estimated that moonlighting operations added up to the equivalent of about $1 billon, corresponding to 40,000 job slots. By now, however, most observers believe that this figure is too low. They came to this conclusion because black labor has so many ramifications that comprehensive data cannot be ascertained; because it is hard to find a dividing line between lending a neighbor a hand and a moonlighting job; becausethere are also barter deals where, for example, a carpenter builds shelves for a butcher's shop and gets paid in meat.

Furthermore, although government controls are being stepped up, it will still be hard to control what anyone does in his or her spare time. It is and will continue to be difficult, indeed impossible on account of the general attitude prevailing in the country.

Danes normally are known to have a high tax morality. However heavy the tax load, people by and large do not cheat. But where moonlighting is concerned, the approach seems to be different. One does not denounce his neighbor for a tax fraud if he is involved in moonlighting. This may be

because it is so widespread and has become something of a mute protest against the continuing encroachment of taxes on everyone.

It may also be so because existing rules are not always thought to make sense. A discussion has started about whether and how to come up with new and perhaps more straight forward and logical rules. But it would be no easy task to discern how far to go and where to stop.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe