There may be a death-knell coming for Twinkies and I know this is true because this week’s Fortune magazine tells me that the corporate parent may not emerge from bankruptcy. The article explores the allegedly intransigent positions of the private equity owners, the secured lenders and the labor unions. The broader ramifications have escaped Fortune, of course. Fortune is the People Magazine of business, and its reportage is about as deep as Cape Cod Bay at dead low tide.
The first ramification is social. We are talking about an American institution here. People have dropped Twinkies from office towers and made movies about them. Lawyers have built insanity defenses around their sugar content. Generations of New Yorkers, and business travelers in New York making the taxi trek to LaGuardia Airport, have looked at, around and past the Wonderbread sign dominating the Jamaica, Queens skyline and marking the hallowed ground where the Twinkies were, er, manufactured. Blog posters are uniformly claiming to be crushed, as if the Twinkie were an FDA-approved universal cure-all being lost to mankind through some colossal business error.
The broader ramification is anti-American and surely anti-Fortune. It is the fact that, when you look at the Hostess Company, now in its second bankruptcy in fewer years than one hand has fingers, you see the raw Darwinian logic of our economic system. It is hard to believe that good business or social planning would include the Hostess scenario as a success story.
The culprit is capitalism.
I am not against capitalism. I am not smart enough to be against capitalism. I am sure there are numerous analyses proving it the best system net on a utilitarian basis, far superior to other forms of social organization (many of which I cannot, no doubt, even name). My point is so much simpler: the failure of this company appears to be a disaster for absolutely everyone involved and it was accomplished in about four years by people we consider to be smart, and we are about to brush it off and forget about it.
When one openly says that our economic system unexplainably produces failures, the typical reactions to such a statement are these: clucks of condescension from business folk who look at such remarks as so painfully naïve as to be below reply; reports to government agencies that subversives are in our midst; well-trained functionaries in the capitalist system who are well enough off, and poorly enough educated, think that this must be Valhalla. Classify me what you will for saying that the emperor has bad clothes and for not knowing the address of another tailor who can cut a better fit to human need, but as Hostess joins an almost unmeasurable parade of failures that bring economic tragedy one has a choice: to casually observe that such is the nature of free enterprise; OR to say that there is a problem if this is the best we can do.
And why write this blog post when it fails to advance our thinking on anything? It at least advances our understanding of what we do not understand.
Well, you know how it goes. That’s how the Twinkie crumbles….