Will Copper-Stealing Meth Heads Jack Up the Price of Your Almonds?

In today’s New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer writes about California farmers whose irrigation systems are being stripped of their copper wiring, presumably by methamphetamine addicts who sell the metal in the recycling market:

Theft of scrap metal, mostly copper, has vexed many areas of American life and industry for the last 18 months, fueled largely by record-level prices for copper resulting from a building boom in Asia. … Thieves have stripped the wires out of phone lines, pulled plaques off cemetery plots, raided air-conditioning systems in schools and yanked catalytic converters from cars, all to be resold to scrap metal recyclers. … But perhaps no group has been as been as consistently singled out as California farmers.

The article is uniformly interesting, even though there seems to be little hard evidence that a) it’s really meth heads who are primarily doing the stealing; and b) that farmers are really the hardest-hit group of victims. But it does make sense that farms are more vulnerable to this kind of theft than, say, construction sites, which probably have a lot more security on average.

So if the price of almonds, tomatoes, melons, and pistachios starts to climb in the coming months, remember: it was the Chinese building boom that fueled the demand for copper that led the meth addicts (maybe) to cripple the irrigation systems that damaged the crops that drove down the supply, which led to higher prices in the supermarket. Or, the shorter version: when in doubt, blame the Chinese.


In 1982 pennies started to be made with less copper. Some are likely still in circulation, but it is a felony to melt them down in the US as is exporting them to be melted. These acts weren't a felony until late 2006 and the measures also cover nickels which are now being made with more copper than nickels.


As a real estate investor here in Chicago, I'm looking forward to ideas about what to do about this.

I gave up on rehabbing (it was bad for my blood pressure) but the number of buildings here that suffer thousands in damage so that someone can make off with $50 in copper pipe is mindblowing.

My favorite story is the one where thieves stole the aluminum siding from a vacant house a few strips at a time. The neighbor said that she would see someone run between her house and the vacant one next door and then hear a zipping sound as they pulled the siding off while running at full speed. They would then head straight into the alley through the backyard.

It finally stopped when I chained the backyard fence.


A month ago there was a story in the local news where in an abandoned store a guy died from catching fire while trying to rip copper wire from the walls.

The story stated that it was just to raise cash for his family.

Ahh, link here:


"When in doubt, blame the Chinese"
This is a pretty accurate description of the current campaign platform of the Democratic Party.
Back in the 19th century, democrat politicians, sponsored by big labor, eagerly pushed for a legislation that became known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Now the same political party is agitating for punitive measures against China.
The Democrats just never change.


The link to the Chinese building boon seems plausible. But the more important questions is:
What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?


Here's a link from the Tribune about copper theft gone awry:

Copper Theft Spoils Food Bank Groceries[/url]



“When in trouble, blame the DEMOCRATS”
This is a pretty accurate description of the current campaign platform of the REPUBLICAN Party.

there, "foxed" that for you.


“When in trouble, blame the DEMOCRATS”

Hard to believe any neocons read this blog. Freakonomics is about searching for answers. Not about sticking your head in the sand.


Hey! There are LOTS of answers in the sand...like OIL!



Paul Clapham

The price of almonds is down about 30% over the last couple of months. Source: my survey of big bags of almonds at the Costco in Richmond BC. (No, I don't know if they are California almonds.)

Can we credit the Chinese for that?


In Chicago, they recently stole an extremely large central air conditioner off the roof of our building near Chinatown. They must have stole it during the winter or the spring, because when we went to turn it on in the Summer, it didn't work at all. Then the repairman came and said apparently it had been stolen.

Tim Bull

This problem is also occuring in Australia. There was a lengthy delays on my train line a few months ago because several hundred metres of Copper Wire was stripped from the overhead powerlines which power the trains. In the news article (http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,20801339-661,00.html) the scrap metal dealers suggest "drug addicts" are to blame, although if the scrap dealers didn't by the metal would there still be a ready market for the drug addicts?


"In Chicago, they recently stole an extremely large central air conditioner off the roof of our building near Chinatown."

Wow. Must have been someone that "blamed the Chinese". Think globally, act locally...


Gleaners, the largest food bank in Indianapolis, on Friday fell victim to thieves who stole copper tubing from refrigerators — spoiling over $500,000 worth of food.



weren't pennies more copper before year X?- so shouldn't the meth junkies (with logic circuits fried) be holding up people and saying gimme all ur pennies?


"Hey! There are LOTS of answers in the sand…like OIL!"

Though the person who made the point is supposed to say it, I will say it for you. Touche' Salesman.

O' Canada!


A good friend of mine who does insurance adjusting spent several months in New Orleans after Katrina. He told me that he knew of a few schools that suffered millions of dollars of water damage -- after being rebuilt -- because someone ripped out copper piping that was part of the water supply system.


Maybe we should start using Meth addicts for farm work. They won't complain about labor practices and will work TONS of overtime. They will buy meth with their paychecks, which would fuel their next/continual shift. That would also take care of those pesky illegals.

If it's not the Meth addicts then it's the Chinese cashmere goats. Looks like Californians just aren't catching a break.