Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkie Defense

Paul Krugman notes the passing of the Twinkie and the era it represented.

The Twinkie, it turns out, was introduced way back in 1930. In our memories, however, the iconic snack will forever be identified with the 1950s, when Hostess popularized the brand by sponsoring “The Howdy Doody Show.” And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.

Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.

As he notes, tax rates were high — some as high as 91% — but people still made a lot of money and lived pretty well (including George Romney and his family).  Labor unions were very strong, and yet companies were still able to make money and crank out the things the consumer wanted, even if it was junk food, cigarettes, and Edsels.

The Twinkie was a harmless snack, all sweetness and light, but it also became symbolic of an era that looked good on the surface but covered up a lot of things we’d rather forget: segregation and paranoia, polio and Senator McCarthy, Sputnik and duck-and-cover.  We couldn’t survive on Twinkies alone; they were little sugar bombs just waiting to go off.  They even formed the basis of the defense of Dan White, the man who assassinated Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco in 1978: the junk food made him do it.

It may be just karmic that the demise of the Hostess Brands line of bland and poisonous foods like Ding-Dongs and Wonder Bread come to the end of their current life soon after the end of a presidential campaign that represented a backwards march to the era when the kind of food they sold was what America was all about.  We can be all nostalgic about those days, but as Dr. Krugman notes, “we are, morally, a much better nation than we were. Oh, and the food has improved a lot, too.”

Have some granola.

2 barks and woofs on “The Twinkie Defense

  1. Isn’t this a “buggy-whip” moment – where the maker of an obsolete component of a paradigm finally goes out of business? Hostess products are among the least healthy “foods” on the shelves: even Wonder Bread was questionable, and Twinkies are certainly bad for you. And Hostess was far from healthy: sold twice in the last 10 years, bankrupt at least once, and losing market share as (relatively) healthier foods became more common.

    Hostess’ management hasn’t done themselves any favors, either. Multiple owners, multiple profitable assets liquidated in order to “preserve the bottom line” – all while upper management gave themselves raise after raise. If I didn’t know better I’d say the situation had Bain’s fingerprints all over it.

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