Harold Crick: It says, in the file, that you only paid part of your taxes for last year.
Ana Pascal: That's right.
Harold Crick: Looks like only 78 percent.
Ana Pascal: Yep.
Harold Crick: So you did it on purpose?
Ana Pascal: Yep.
Harold Crick: So you must've been expecting an audit.
Ana Pascal: Um, I was expecting a fine, or a sharp reprimand.
Harold Crick: A reprimand? This isn't boarding school, Miss Pascal. You stole from the government.
Ana Pascal: No I didn't steal from the government. I just didn't pay you entirely.
Stranger Than Fiction, 2006
The idea of stealing from the government presents a discrepancy, and if thought about too deeply could result in the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Of course, everyone knows stealing from the government is bad. It's worse than stealing from a regular person. If you steal cash out of a purse at the mall, you might get in some trouble and have to wear an orange vest and clean up a little trash along the highway, but try sneaking a book of stamps at the Post Office and you've really crossed the line. You stole from the government. Those were The People's Stamps, and you selfishly tried to make them your own. The cash was just from some lady—an individual—but the stamps, those belong to the people. Until an individual buys them, but whatever.
The government (technically multiple governments, but there's only one Capital G Government, because they all answer to, and beg money from, the federal one) has lots of property, and you can't steal any of it. Cars, trucks, buildings, land, anything really. Sometimes it's even called public land, but the public (that's us) has to ask permission to use it, and even then it can only be used in a very limited manner (unless the particular member of the public has tons of money, and then it's different). The big question is where does the government get all of this stuff? Does land automatically just belong to the government? How do they buy those fleets of vehicles? Well, the government is rich, right? It can just buy whatever it needs. Sort of.
Anyone who has ever paid taxes has helped the government acquire all of that stuff. Actually, some people who haven't paid taxes yet, and maybe aren't even born yet, will, in some distant future, be paying for the stuff the government has right now. Maybe you didn't know this, but the government, with the help of the non-government Federal Reserve, borrows more money than you can imagine. The government is not rich, the government has a huge credit card. So either way, whatever the government claims it owns, was actually paid for, or will be paid for, by the subjects it disingenuously calls citizens.
That begs the question, is it possible to steal from the government? The government (meaning, of course, the state, but that's a different topic) has forcibly* extracted money from everyone in the form of taxes, including the sneaky tax of inflation, in order to get whatever it is it needed to continue, in a less efficient and more brutal manner, to extract increasing amounts of money from the same everyone. If a private sector thief takes your property are you justified in trying to retrieve it? "Hey, that's my TV, give it back!" Seems legit. Try getting a TV back from the local TSA office. Even though he had an enormous mustache, Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said, "Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen." If the state hasn't stolen everything it has, then why is there a need for an armed collection agency? Why are people coerced** into filing tax returns every year? If given a choice, we wouldn't buy the things the government buys, so they have to take it with threats of violence. Can you really claim to own something you bought with stolen money? Can you really be angry when someone steals what you stole first?
You can be prosecuted and punished for taking something the government claims to own, but is it stealing? Maybe, maybe not. You can be prosecuted and punished for not paying taxes—they call it stealing—but is it stealing? They are stealing it from you, not the other way around.
*Yes, forcibly. Just call the IRS and tell them you're never paying any taxes again and see what happens. They have guns.
**Watch this hilarious video of Harry Reid claiming the opposite.