Saturday, November 17, 2012

A toast to Twinkies

By Frank Moraes

I know what you're thinking, "What's the point of reading another blog post when soon there will be no more Twinkies and we will all starve?" I hear you. But I have good news! It is very possible that Twinkies will live on, coming out the same factories, albeit under a different name. And maybe for a higher price. But hell, what price is too high for a Twinkie?

As you must know, Hostess is going out of business. This is a big deal. Hostess currently employs 18,000 workers. But this is a typical story with a typical storyline. Of what I've read Dean Baker has the best analysis, "No Cupcake: Workers Turn Down Bad Deal from Hostess."

There are two narratives: conservative and liberal. The conservative narrative is that the greedy unions would not take one for the team and so brought down yet another Great American Business. This is not true at all. As Baker points out, the unions had very good reasons for turning down the deal. (Although it was only one of the unions that actually did so.)

The liberal narrative is incomplete but mostly true: Ripplewood Holdings, a private equity company, took over Hostess in 2009, saddled it with debt, and let it flounder. This is the process that Matt Taibbi laid out in his Rolling Stone cover article. And this one was pretty much by the numbers.

But Dean Baker argues that the biggest problem is that before and after the takeover, Hostess was badly managed. They did not change their products to move with the times. What's more, they kept a very limited product line. This was all bound to happen.

Peter Frase over at Jacobin points out another problem, "Hostess and the Limits of the Private Welfare State." The truth is that our country's lack of a single-payer health-care system, stable pensions, and limited unemployment make it far harder for both workers and companies. There is no doubt about that.

I am a great fan of junk foods. So I'm sorry to see Hostess go, even apart from the economic effects. Just the same, it might have been a good idea if they had worked to break into the Oroweat bread market. I'm sure there will soon be companies popping up to fill the junk food vacuum. And there is even hope that some of Hostess' existing factories will continue to pump out cream filled snack cakes—even if they are called Tweenies or Twankies and Wankers. I'd eat a product called Wankers, if only as a toast to the Hostess management.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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