Before you earn a cent, government takes a chunk out of your pay packet in taxes. Today, 12 May, marks Tax Freedom Day (TFD) 2022 which is a measure of how much time you spend working for someone else’s benefit – government GDP – rather than your own.

The Free Market Foundation says TFD is the day we, the people of South Africa, at last start to work for ourselves. It is the day on which we have finally paid our tax bill in full. From 1 January until 11 May, all the income earned by average South Africans is needed to pay for one year of government spending.

Tax Freedom Day 2022 falls 10 days later than predicted in 2021 and four weeks later than actual in 1994. The average South African taxpayer had to work 131 (predicted) days in 2022 to pay their taxes. In 1994, South Africans took 101 (actual) days to pay for government, a whole 30 days fewer than in 2022. Unfortunately, the trend toward TFD falling later and later is likely to continue as government spending, the deficit, and government debt continues to increase.

Each year, the Free Market Foundation’s statistician, Garth Zietsman, calculates South Africa’s Tax Freedom Day. “Tax Freedom Day is calculated by dividing General Government Revenue by GDP at market prices, then multiplying the result by the number of days in a year, and finally adding a day,” explains Zietsman.

TFD is determined in this way and spread over the first months of the calendar year to give us an idea of how the burden of taxes affects the average taxpayer. It is accepted that some lose more and others less of their hard-earned income in taxes, but the average, measured in days of the year, confirms what people know intuitively: the taxes we pay are too high.

“South Africa has the 12th highest income tax burden, the 9th highest company income tax burden, and the 14th highest non-resource tax burden worldwide,” says Zietsman. “For our level of economic development, that is exceptionally high by international standards.”

Government produces little to show for the high tax burden. Zietsman points out that, “Our educational system is dismal and the crime rate is high with most serious crimes going unsolved.” While taxes have been trending upwards, income per capita has been trending downwards. The result is that South Africans have had to carry a growing tax burden while getting poorer.

Growth requires lower taxes, he adds. Reduced taxes would provide a greater incentive for private individuals to work, save and invest. The net result would be greater investment, more innovation, a stronger economy, less unemployment, less poverty, and a more contented populace.

Government is both less innovative and less efficient than the private sector. South Africa’s state-owned enterprises are numerous and usually produce large losses that require regular substantial bailouts at taxpayer expense. High taxation slows, not grows, an economy.

TFD reminds us to think about the role of government in our lives and whether we are getting value for money.