"The point McArdle makes is that small, consistent punishment for failure is a lot better than daramtic, unpredictable penalties...The most important example of this is the Hawaii HOPE program, in which probationers are watched closely, drug-tested frequently, and punished with a short jail sentence for any missteps -- whereas, elsewhere, probationers' minor violations are ignored for a period of time until law enforcement gets fed up and sends them to prison for years.It's long been puzzling to me how often people engage in the "unforced error" of not saving money and going into killer levels of debt even in the face of a job market that's subject to the vacillations of the business cycle. It's not rational. (Although for that matter sin isn't rational either.)
The program results in less incarceration despite setting a much lower bar for punishment. When punishment is consistent, even if it's small, people come to comprehend that their own behavior is what determines their treatment - they develop what psychologists call an 'internal locus of control.' There are similar situations throughout our society: When we give all kids a trophy, for example, we send them the message that their performance doesn't matter and deny them the experience of small failures. This just sets them up for big failures down the road."
With debt, credit cards offer no penalty until there's a large penalty: that of a bankruptcy (although bankruptcies are relatively painless these days). In generations past, if you blew your paycheck on Friday you had to live with the consequences until the next Friday. You received a punishment. Now, of course, there's no punishment until the whole edifice crashes.
With sin too there's a similar dynamic since often sin goes unpunished in the short term. So I guess this is all shades of Flannery O'Connor's famous line: "She would of been a good woman, said The Misfit, if it had been somebody there to [punish] her every minute of her life."