Call it a sign of the times.

Missouri has a new law on the books with stiffer penalties for stealing metal. Specifically, the theft of copper has become commonplace. The accusations of thefts from the Lake City plant in Independence are just one high-volume highlight of the problem.

The more mundane issue is the stripping of old houses and air conditioners for their copper tubing. Now the state will require recycling companies to keep records on just who they’re buying from. That should help some.

Wasn’t it just a few short years ago that most of those in the business of basic commodities – whether copper or steel, corn or soybeans – were on the wrong end of the economic equation? They had little or no “pricing power,” as economists call it, and were at the mercy of the markets. How things have changed. Rapidly growing economies in places such as India and China have sharply raised demand for food, energy and metals such as copper, which hit at all-time high price earlier this spring.

This isn’t a passing trend (and it might put the penny in danger). The world needs copper, and thieves respond to market forces just like anyone else.