Hostess Bankruptcy: What Role Did Policy Play?

Chris Edwards

11/19/2012 12:01:00 AM

 

The demise of Hostess and Twinkies is not a national emergency, but it is certainly sad when a major business goes under and thousands of people lose their jobs.

If federal and state policymakers want to play a useful role here, they should study why Hostess couldn’t make a go of it. Were there tax or regulatory factors that stood in the way of the company earning a decent rate of return?

Unions were an important factor that pushed up the firm’s costs and reduced its operational efficiency. The policy reform here is obvious for people who appreciate market economics: repeal America’s coercive union laws. If policymakers don’t kill so-called collective bargaining, these rules will keep on killing companies.

Sugar apparently played a role in the demise of Hostess, as discussed in this excellent CSM article. Food manufacturers that use a lot of sugar are at a competitive disadvantage in the United States because federal import barriers on sugar substantially push up prices for that production input.

Perhaps taxes played a role as well. Income taxes may not have been a big factor if Hostess wasn’t earning profits in recent years. However, I suspect as a manufacturing firm, the company payed substantial property taxes. In this study, I discuss the anti-investment effects of state/local property taxes on U.S. businesses.

Some Democrats and Republicans may use Hostess as a political football, and some politicians will probably want to bail out the company. A more constructive response would be to find out what governments are doing that makes it so hard for some manufacturing firms to survive in this country.

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