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I once worked on a Finance project which had grand aspirations and decided it was going to Do Things Right by starting with extensive specifications.

The developers insisted on all behaviour being specified and documented before they would start coding. Of course, a truly exacting specification is equivalent to code. So the users who had been tasked with describing the required functionality ended up inventing their own DSL and “coding” the entire system in Microsoft Word.

Needless to say, they were the only ones who understood the spec. IT cried foul. Business cried “this is what you asked for!”

Cue months of arguments over what constituted a proper spec, during which the users essentially taught themselves how to code. The software eventually ended up being written by transliterating the DSL into actual code.

It worked, but remains to this day an unmaintainable mess.

I'm of the opinion that there should be a corporate death penalty (though I oppose the death penalty in criminal cases). There's some situations that are so ethically indefensible, wherein a corporation can cause incredible harm over a long period of time, that the only just outcome is for the company to be destroyed. The people responsible are shielded from any real consequence (how many people at VW knew about this, and how many are going to jail over it?). This is not a minor squabble over regulations; this is a conscious decision, involving many executives within the company, to willfully cause environmental destruction that directly costs human lives and health.

This is one of those cases where the corporate death penalty is the only just outcome I can think of.

$15 billion looks like a large sum; and maybe it's even enough to deter car companies from doing something similar in the future. Maybe. VW is worth $73 billion, and they generated a lot of money on the strength of their diesel campaigns. Amortized over the many years that they were shipping out these cars, it begins to look like a cost of doing business, rather than a massively punitive expense.

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