Sunday, August 5, 2012

CEO censors free speech, fires CFO for being a jerk


So okay, this guy, Adam Smith (believe it or not), is a world-class jerk. Ordering a free water, then going on to berate and humiliate the employee at the window (who, to give her props from a man who spent far too much time in the QSR industry, never gave in or broke her composure). Then, when she determinedly wishes him a nice day, he says, “I will. I just did something really good. I feel purposeful.”

If that was the sum and glory of your life, Mr. Smith, yours must be a truly pathetic existence.

Nevertheless, I've spent the last week or so spouting off about the First Amendment. I've said distinctly and clearly that people do not lose the right of free speech by going into business. That, alas, pertains to Adam Smith as it does to Dan Cathy. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall put in the mouth of Voltaire, so I say of Adam Smith: I disapprove of what he says, but I will defend his right to say it.

For once Roger Vogel, the CEO of Vante, a Tucson medical manufacturing company, saw this video, he fired Smith, his CFO.

In my post on The Other Blog, I proposed a true case of discrimination that would fall under the Illinois Human Rights Act: If Joe Schmuckatelli, the manager of the Bedrock Chick-fil-A, saw two men holding hands and tossed them out on their ears while shouting obscenities, then there would be a case under IHRA. And Cathy himself would probably lead the auto-da-fĂ© by personally firing Schmuckatelli, while most of us in the pro-traditional marriage camp would be writing the equivalent of facepalms (“Thanks a lot, you jerk!”).

So what's the difference? Schmuckatelli, in the example, would be acting as a representative of Chick-fil-A, and as such has a responsibility to act according to the company's customer-service policy even if it offends him personally. Once he punches off the time clock, shucks his uniform and steps off the campus, though, he's free to speak according to his conscience as a citizen, so far as he does so as a private citizen and not purporting to represent Chick-fil-A's official policies.

Nothing that we can see in the video presents Smith in his capacity as CFO of Vante. Outside perhaps a small community who know Vante from either business or other community connections, there's nothing to tie his asininity to the rest of the company. His hapless victim is not his employee. Vante doesn't even get mentioned in the video. So Vogel, by firing Smith, stepped outside of his proper bounds as CEO and made himself enforcer of public decorum for his company. I can understand the motivation — nobody likes to work with an intolerant a**hole — but Vogel went too far.

A lot of corporate bigwigs seem to think that, if you pay a person a salary, you own not only his body but also his soul and mind, and that you therefore have the right to dictate his off-hours speech. If that's the case, then that's further reason we should become a distributist economy: to prevent an oligarchy of insanely rich men and women from controlling political dialogue. Spread out the capital, and you diffuse the power of the rich to control the country.

No, Smith should not have lost his job for being an arrogant, sanctimonious jerk. Vogel just made one more martyr for the First Amendment.