All You Haters Suck Missoula’s Barm Part I


Missoula is a fine city… a city I’m proud to call home because of its culture, people, neighborhoods, beer, scenery, architecture, etc.  I am one of those many thousands of people that are not “native” but were attracted here over the last three decades because of how great the Missoula lifestyle is and after nearly a decade of living here I feel like this is my hometown.  And so I hope you can understand my frustration when Missoula is derided as the basket case of Montana.

The argument heard over and over again from various people goes something like this; “Bottom line, the problem is Missoula is run and heavily populated by Liberals*,” originally from the evil, socialist, and morally corrupt state of California. Those damn hippies hate anyone who dares to try and start a business and, “are vocally anti corporate*”.  All these transplants are ruining Missoula for the Missoula natives; outsiders add to congestion, low wages, a bad job market, unaffordable housing, and worse government.  If only local government would get out of my bathroom, stop preventing me from getting from point A to B with all this traffic calming bullshit, and stop telling me how I can advertise my business Missoula would be a great place and Smurfit-Stone never would have pulled out.

I’ll attempt to address and dissect these complaints in an ongoing series about Missoula and will argue that Missoula’s liberal culture is perhaps its greatest asset and that many of Missoula’s weaknesses are in fact geographical in nature rather than political or cultural.

Lets start with the claim that liberalism is destroying Missoula economically.  Its perfectly true that Missoula is a transformed town from the mill-town it once was 30 or 40 years ago, but what western town or city hasn’t seen radical shifts in their economies?  Resource extraction, manufacturing, and the associated supporting infrastructure and jobs have seen major declines since the late seventies all across the country.  This isn’t because of liberals but because of capitalism… markets have been opened up and such industries are now mainly based in low wage countries in Asia.

So all you haters don’t blame liberals… blame other nations full of people working harder at lower wage rates… if only they would unionize we might get our jobs back.  The conservative blame game pointed at Missoula’s liberals comes out of frustration with change and an unknown future.  They see change all around them from the subdivision swallowing up farm fields and the mill jobs disappearing to the bike lanes going in all over town and they don’t understand where all this change has come from or where it will lead… so they lash out at the closest thing, local liberals.

Despite Missoula’s transformation and loss of old economy employment the town hasn’t been hit terribly hard economically through most of the last 40 years… in fact Missoula has experienced a higher rate of job growth than conservative leaning and business friendly Billings.  According to The Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s Montana Regional Economic Analysis Project Missoula experienced job growth of 216% from 1969-2008 while Billings job growth was 168% and Montana and National growth was a slower rate of 118% and 99% respectfully.  Average employment growth in Missoula beat Billings every decade since the seventies and thats with Billing’s boom in the oil and natural gas service industry.  Even in the current economic climate Missoula’s job losses have been less than those experienced in the early 80s, about 2.5% compared with about 9%.  Income growth has also outpaced Billings, with Missoula experiencing total personal income increase over the same time period by 318% as compared to Billings (273%), Montana (204%), and the Nation (228%) as a whole.  Not bad Missoula!

It is exactly because of Missoula’s more liberal and open culture combined with its recreational opportunities and lifestyle that has attracted such growth and not tax rebates and large corporations.  Economists Thomas Power and Richard Barret make a great case for the “New West” economy in their book Post-Cowboy Economies.   Their argument is that faltering industrial economies have opened up the west for new economic opportunities based not on resource extraction but on environmental quality, in-migration, recreation/tourism, and knowledge based services (finance, engineering, medical services, etc).  The old western economy and the new western economy were both mutually exclusive, unable to exist simultaneously within the same geographic space.  This new economy is bringing along more prosperity, wider ranging economic development, and booming growth as evidenced by the fact that the Mountain West was the fastest growing region in the 90s and aughts.

This “New West” economy has produced huge gains for Missoula.  Between 2001-2007 Missoula County saw net employment growth of 10,632, or 15%, with growth being the greatest in the professional and technical services (27%), healthcare (13%), arts/entertainment/recreation (44%), education (38%), real estate (70%), administration (41%), and finance (10%).  During that same time Missoula County’s poulation increased from 97,400 to 107,552, or 10.4%.

So yes… Missoula has experienced an amazing amount of change in the last several decades fueled mostly by in-migration and shifting employment and industrial sector growth.  Its utter poppycock that Missoula has a lousy economy even given the current situation.  Missoula has been a leader in many fields and has developed first class educational and healthcare services for our region that not only attract people to Missoula but also act as the area’s largest employers.

The recent closing of the last remaining mills in the area and the loss of Macy’s might play heavily within the communal psychology of Missoula but are largely beyond the control of locals.  While the loss of over 400 Stone Container jobs is a big loss and affects many families its a sign of strength and diversity that such a loss makes such a small dent in total employment.  Such local events are part of the process of resetting the economic playing field to allow capital to be freed from unprofitable economic pursuits.  New opportunities that are net yet in sight will come to occupy these vacant spaces.  We aren’t experiencing anything different from anywhere else in the country and are in far better shape than similar communities in the Detroit area or Phoenix suburbs.

So all you haters… get over the hate and embrace the closest liberal you can find and lets work together to bring Missoula into the future as a strong regional leader… otherwise suck on Missoula’s barm.

*Quotes from various local online comment sections


  1. Ok, I am NOT a hater, but let’s just face some facts – I was born in Missoula 62 years ago, so I oughta know something, went to 22 different K12 schools, one degree UM Botany, MS Soils MSU, magna cum laude, 3.84 but 4.00 going by class performance, 8 years biol/chem/math through graduate school with 3 years advanced research. Quite a few good people there, sure, but Missoula always was economically depressed, even more intellectually depressed, the univ and K12 administrative figures are professional frauds, I had one childhood friend whose daughter was raped in a high school not that long ago (completely ignored) while admin lackeys lie about how good they are and how large their genitals are (sucker punching city preachers with porn they claim is made for the K12 curriculum), the UM curriculum is touchy feely but content pathetically weak and technically a fraud. Butterfly herbs is a cute place, the train depot romantic and charming, but that’s about it, the major employer of young people is in FACT a cocaine / crack racket that the police will NOT even discuss… overall, it’s a pathetic, run down, nepotistic society of low class morons who believe they can get ahead by catering to a managerial philosophy whose major claim to fame rests in their genitals and yet claim to actually know what they’re doing on a job. The whole state is pretty much that way, the country not too far up there, but Missoula is the pit of pits, and this is coming from a live and let live man with a deep personal work and moral ethic. If you love it there, fine, no one hates you, nobody really hates the gays or the druggies or the intellectual snobs, but the fact is that a Christian who minds his own business in that town or anyone half way competent or sincere are the ones who will be getting hit, so the shoe is really on the other foot. You love it there, stay there, but quit making life hell for real people, they aren’t haters, Einstein, quit your belly aching, the problem is YOU, just try to keep your smell to yourself and no one will bother you.

  2. Tobie

    My god, you love your rants don’t you?

  3. elkamino

    crack racket?

    in missoula?


    • JC

      If you back track, he says it’s the “major employer of young people” in missoula. Well, the largest employers in the valley of young people are DirecTV and the University. Take your pick. My bet is he’s accusing DirecTV of running a racket.

      Is that so, Foos? If so, what’s your proof? Or are you just in the accusation and innuendo business? And what makes you think “that the police will NOT even discuss” it? You think that police should discuss every undercover operation it may have going on? Especially to people who are as “real” whack as you?

  4. SeenClearly

    Well said CFS!
    There are some (or many?) Missoulians and Montanans who are vocally anti-corporate. Count me as one of them. To be truly pro-community, one must exclude corporatism from the mix. They have mutually exclusive aims.

  5. Widowmaker

    I purposefully moved to Missoula over 10 years ago, and still live here. It is a fun city. I find that the people that find the town hugely liberal only choose to listen to the college crowd. It was about a 60/40 split during the 2008 Presidential election, and was a swing county in the 2004 election. I like it here.

    My “problem” with Missoula is my problem with every college town. I choose to live in a college town, so its not that big of a problem. Kids get a few semesters of college in them and they think they understand the world. They think they know everything. I find some of the most ignorant people on this planet are among students in their first two or three years of college. Unfortunately these people think they are now educated and want to squawk and tell the world about it. This problem isn’t unique to Missoula (Bozeman, Berkley, BYU University of every state, etc).

    • In Missoula, it really isn’t that big a problem. Consider the numbers. ~14,000 students, with ~3000 faculty and staff. All that in a city of ~50,000 to ~65,000 residents, in a metro area that serves well over 100,000 people. If you’re letting less than 20% of the relevant population bug you because they think “they understand the world”, then I would contend you would have an even worse time in a small town, where that 20% is high school aged, and truly clueless. After all, in the city, you can avoid those that bother you. In a smaller town … not so much.

  6. CFS and Foos are made for each other.

  7. Pogo Possum

    I don’t have a problem with Liberals, CarFreeStupidity. In fact, at least half of my close friends describe themselves as Liberals, some describe themselves as extreme Liberals. We may disagree with each other at times but we respect each others different opinions. I doubt the vast majority of people who you refer to as Missoula natives (conservatives included) have a major problem with anyone’s politics and have friends from across the political spectrum.

    What I and many Missoula natives (conservatives, liberals, moderates and independents) take issue with, is people who move to Missoula and and almost immediatly start denegrating Missoula natives, arrogantly telling people who were born here or lived here a long time that they are “haters”, rednecks, ignorant, unwilling to change, and implying they just are just not as enlightend and knowledgeable as you because of your political or geographic origin. The people who have lived in Missoula for the past 30 to 60 + years have dealt with and adapted to far more change then you can imagine in the short 10 years you have lived here. They (conservatives, liberals, moderates) helped make this community the place that attracted you here in the first place.

    I have generally found that people tend to respond to another based on how that person interacts with them.
    You sound like as much of a “hater” as those you criticize. Instead of arrogantly telling people who disagree with you to “go suck on Missoula’s barm” you might want to heed your own advice and “embrace the closest conservative, moderate and native Missoula liberal” you can find.

    P.S. And stop riding your bicycle home while drunk and “pissing people off” with your riding style.

    • carfreestupidity

      If we read my pst carefully Mr. Pogo… I was referring specifically to people making the arguments I quote in the second paragraph of the post.

  8. Pogo Possum

    I read your post very carefully, CFS, and my comments still stand. Your well intended passion is causing you to act as arrogant and as hateful as the very people you criticize.

    And while you are doing your “happy dance” as you tell some 50+ year old laid off mill worker how much better off he and Missoula is now that Smurfit Stone and other wood product companies are gone, you might pause for a second and empathize with him and his family. He has a right to complain and resent you rubbing it in his face.

    As you have posted before, you have a way of “pissing people off” with your style of doing things. I suspect that may be the reason you elicit so many frequent hostile responses from others.

    PS – As a helpful and sincere suggestion, CFS, if your desire is to remain an anonymous commentator on 4&20Blackbirds, you may want to go out and take your real name and picture off of some of your other sites that include your CFS pseudonym. I am extremely impressed with your photography. You are good. But consider removing the little details that tie your true identity to your online identity if anonymity is your goal.

    • carfreestupidity

      I no no way insinuated that I was “doing a happy dance” because of the failure of such facilities as Smurfit Stone. I simply stated that it’s a sign of economic strength that The Missoula community hasn’t been hit harder by the closure and that this shows that Missoula’s economy has become more diversified and resilient.

      I know and have become friends with several people laid off from either the bonner mill or stone container. I met them through university classes that they were able to attend because of union contacts promising monies for retraining and federal programs offering additional funding… Two types of programs many conservatives are against. Because of their union contracts and social programs for retraining and unemployment benefits they are able to survive and will find work in new fields not related to resource extraction.

      Do think the money would have been better spent propping up Smurfit Stone? Such as happened with GM. Times are a changing and this country will go bankrupt trying to prop up failing and unprofitable industries. Better to invest that money in the future than waste it in the past.

    • carfreestupidity

      Oh… I appreciate the compliment… Let me know if you would like to purchase any of my work…. I could cut you a deal for someone I enjoy sparing with.

  9. Lizard

    i like this post (maybe a less antagonistic title?)

    personally, i’m also tired of hearing the inaccurate, ideological blame game happening both locally and nationally. in fact, the reason local “liberal hating” is so prevalent is because the national mass media brainwashing effort over the past half century has been increasingly effective at polarizing people. it’s the same stupid culture war the boomers have been obsessed with since the 60’s amplified by corporate media.

    as a cynical gen-Xer who has tried to divest as much as possible from the liberal/conservative dichotomy, i want to hear ideas (read: SOLUTIONS) unattached to ideology. is that even possible?

    we are facing an economic/environmental/energy crisis from over-consumption. we are all entangled in an unsustainable system that rewards greed and corruption at the highest levels, making the divide between the super wealthy and the rest of us as wide as during the height of the great depression.

    eventually more and more people will realize there is no liberal or conservative solution to this systemic crisis, because both ideologies are too blinded by obedience to the corruption of crony capitalism to do what’s necessary.

    what’s necessary? either acknowledge the climate changing post-oil deflationary reality we are facing, or just sit back and wait for the rapture.

    • SeenClearly

      Very – very well said Lizard ! Th longer we keep the blinders on, the longer our “leaders” can keep kicking the can down the road; and not tell us to start facing a new whether-we-like-it-or-not reality of austerity and community cooperation.

    • carfreestupidity

      well said… local solutions for local problems and the building of a stronger community connection are important in moving forward and meeting the challenges that we will all face in the future.

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