Skip to comments.Hostess and the GM Bailout: Why the Chevy Volt Shouldn't Exist but Twinkies Still Will
Posted on 11/20/2012 12:55:10 PM PST by grundle
Reports of the death of Twinkies have been greatly exaggerated. You can bet your less-than-a-UAW-worker's next paycheck that the delightfully unnatural confections and wondrous white breads from Interstate Bakeries Corp. are not going away, news stories to the contrary notwithstanding.
I wish we could say the opposite about the financially disastrous, U.S.-government-subsidized Chevy Volt, but we can't. The fact that the Invisible Hand will ultimately keep us in golden sponge cake reveals everything about what goes wrong when the bumbling hand of politics intervenes in free markets, as it did in the case of General Motors (NYSE:GM).
As you've by now read over and over via the past few days' dominant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB)/Twitter meme, we are about to see the death by liquidation of Interstate Bakeries Corp., maker of Hostess Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, and Wonder Bread, among other nutritionally vacant delights. The sentiment behind most of the posts is one of sadness at the pending disappearance of the products, along with rampant nostalgia for the days when we all carried them in our lunchboxes.
Dry your cream-puffed eyes, my friends. The spongy confections with all the qualities of tasty blown-in foam insulation will almost certainly not disappear from store shelves for very long, if at all.
Why not? Because the economics of selling Twinkies still work just fine. The economics of making Twinkies with a grumpy, highly unionized labor force don't. And our system can and will correct that.
Interstate said its Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union-member line workers would need to take significant wage and benefit cuts to allow the company to bring its operating costs into line with other industry players. As a result, the workers told the company where it could shove its Twinkies. Interstate's ownership group essentially responded by saying, "You Ding-Dongs -- forget it. We're closing it all up and selling off the assets."
Which virtually guarantees Twinkies will survive. Given their notoriously long shelf life, my guess is they'll be back in production before your stash even runs out. Why? Because the products made by Interstate are still in high demand. They wouldn't be on every store shelf in America if they weren't, so the brands will be revived and improved.
I guarantee every private equity firm in the country that likes the consumer products industry is taking a hard look at making a bid for all the Twinkie-related assets -- the recipes, the brand name, the equipment that mixes whatever chemical soup goes into those little buggers -- and that within a few months we'll hear who the successful bidder is. They'll bring in a smart, lean management team, and that team will likely contract out Twinkie production to a highly mechanized, software-savvy, non-union baking firm that will pump out those golden babies at a fraction of the cost of the old ones, but with the exact same (or higher) quality.
Twinkie drought solved, new company created, old industrial economy hangover cured. The economy streamlines, Twinkie-per-worker output will doubtless soar (I'm sure there were a pile of ridiculous work rules that governed who could press the "on" button of the Twinkie-lator), and the new investors will make a pile of dough, so to speak.
Because that's how capitalism works. When something in demand has a lousy, expensive process or management team wrapped around it, the company can go bankrupt but the product can live on. It's happened thousands of times in our system before -- if you wear Converse (NYSE:NKE) sneakers or Hugo Boss (PINK:BSHI) shirts, ride a Schwinn (PINK:DIIBF) bicycle, or stick Ray-o-Vac (NYSE:SPB) batteries in your flashlight, to name just a few -- thank the buyer who bought the assets or backed the company out of bankruptcy. They kept what was right and shed what was wrong.
The result? A vibrant new product line and a vibrant new company. A more efficient economy and happier consumers. That's the way the American system works -- except when the government intervenes.
In the case of General Motors, the Obama Administration determined that it was more important to save United Auto Workers jobs than it was to have the painful but ultimately highly beneficial process of free market restructuring go forward. If GM had been "allowed" to have a normal bankruptcy process, just as in the case of Interstate Bakeries, private equity and strategic industry buyers would have been lined up ten-deep to get a crack at making a major play for the valuable brands and technology assets, distribution networks, and manufacturing plants where the cars were made.
What they wouldn't have wanted or kept were the wildly-overpaid UAW workers and their sleeping-in-the-back-room work rules. They wouldn't have wanted electric car projects like the Chevy Volt that pandered to "green" politicians while losing immense amounts of money on every vehicle made and sold, so they'd have left that "asset" behind, unloved and unbought.
They'd have slimmed down, modernized, and de-calcified an industry that found itself so fundamentally screwed-up and upside down that it managed to take down its entire home city with it. They'd have invested in new, labor-saving and quality-improving technologies, and rather than a perpetually ailing "Sick Man" of the auto industry, we'd have a more focused, more efficient, and more innovative industry powerhouse on our hands. The new company's suppliers would likely mirror that investment, too, with new plants and new jobs to fuel a resurgent American auto industry.
That, in turn, would have benefited our entire national economy, helping it prepare for an ever more competitive future, and ultimately throwing off greater income and wealth for its workers, investors, and suppliers. In short, it would have helped contribute to the prosperity of every American.
Giving them money to buy more Twinkies. The system works brilliantly, if it's allowed to.
In my humble opinion, the Volt IS the Twinkie of the auto world.
Union at Hostess totally to blame for its own demise. Federal hack bankruptcy judge trying to force owners to pay parasites but they will just dismiss case and sell trademarks and recipes to foreign company and union goes home on welfare. This was what will finally happen at Government Motors and Chrysler. Noone buys their cars. Ever see one? they are all fleet sales to government agencies. Terrible cars. Never buy one not even used
Sorry, but why must you insult the great Twinkie like that? Sir, have you no couth?
THAT is an insult to Twinkies...
Well, we understand that, but how do the Democrats look at it? They think the problem with GM is that management was paid too much and too much money was taken out of the company to pay stockholders dividends. How did they come to think that way?
Put yourself in the shoes of GM’s CEOs in the 60s-80s. You see the imports coming and and you realize you have to cut labor costs. How exactly do you do that? Lockout? Every night, there’s Walther Cronkite showing stories of kids with no Christmas presents. You start to get threatening calls from Senators. You going to fight the unions or try to hang on and get your retirement? Did our automakers know how to make good cars that were profitable? Of course they did. Democrats screw up everything they touch.
I agree... Twinkies have got a bad rap. They don’t have any more chemicals or preservatives than other “snack foods” and actually on average have considerably less sodium and fat. Their shelf life isn’t any longer either. You have to freeze them if you want them to stay “fresh” for a long time. We used to have a hostess outlet store near where I grew up. My parents always bought us stale Hostess treats. Rejuvinating old Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes was one of the miracles of the newly invented microwave oven. Even the treats that had been designated as “pig food” by the outlet bakery tasted fine as long as you chewed them up them before they had a chance to cool down.
I personally don’t care for them and never have, but I recognize their iconic stature in the world of snack foods.
If people want to buy them, then someone should damn well make them and get wealthy doing it.