Still, nowhere do the contradictions of the pre-election Russia manifest themselves more than in the country's system--or better, pile--of taxes. For a company or individual to operate strictly by the book would mean surrendering virtually all profits and going out of business. Add to the tax situation the proliferation of organized crime and corrupt officials who collect their own "tax"--and the climate for business would seem lethal. Yet, one need not be an economics expert to see that Moscow is a real boom town. Traffic alone, thanks largely to the increase in private automobile ownership, has been growing exponentially. With only 40% of individual income derived from salaries--15% less than a year ago--it appears that small businesses are proliferating at unprecedented rates. Conclusion: Tax evasion is a universal phenomenon.
"The people are honest; it's the tax laws that are crooked," said Alexander N. Yakovlev, the veteran of perestroika and still an influential force in the Yeltsin government. A prolific and provocative author with a keen political mind and distinctive style, he is often invited to speak abroad. "I once said to Chernomyrdin," Yakovlev said, "when I receive a speaking fee abroad, why should I pay more than 80% in taxes to the state? The state did not buy me a ticket; it did not pay me a salary to write my lectures and books. Why, then, should I give up what I earned?"