Oh, Rats! NYC, We Have a Problem!

Greetings from the home of the rat race run daily, New York City.

This week, I’m here teaching interns at one of the big US banks. It’s a short three-day program, so I’ll be back home Saturday morning.

You’d think after the government-mandated private sector shutdown of 2020-2021, New York’s biggest problem would be to get people to come back.

But they have, to a certain extent. I still think my Paradigm colleague James Altucher is right, rather than Seinfeld, in that NYC’s heyday is long gone.

My problem is that I’m anchored in Giuliani-era New York. I graduated in 1996 from Villanova, so I came to NYC when it was Disneyified. Note: “Disneyfied” in the 1990s meant “cleaned up,” rather than its 2020s meaning of “turned to crap.”


1996: “Oh my God! Times Square has been Disneyfied! It’s so clean compared to the 80s!”

2023: “Oh my God! Kathleen Kennedy Disneyfied Star Wars! Now no one wants to watch it!”

I can’t believe I’m writing about rat infestations in major cities. But teaching last year in NYC blew me away. So far, nothing this year has changed my mind.

Last August in NYC

I spent a full month in New York last July and August teaching graduate programs for two of the megabanks here.

I hadn’t been back in years, and I was keen to see my colleagues, so I enthusiastically accepted the assignment.

We were staying Downtown, so I thought my British and Irish colleagues would enjoy a drink at Fraunces’ Tavern.

That’s where George Washington announced he’d resigned his commission and would return to civilian life.

Shortly before noon that day, Washington assembled about thirty soldiers to the Long Room at Fraunces Tavern for his last goodbye.

There is only one known complete account of this event, written by Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge. In his 1830 memoir, he recounts:

“We had been assembled but a few moments when his excellency entered the room. After partaking of a slight refreshment in an almost breathless silence the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, “With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

After the officers had taken a glass of wine General Washington said, “I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.” General Knox, the closest officer to Washington, walked up to the General and the two hugged and kissed with tears running down their faces. Tallmadge recalls, “In the same affectionate manner every officer in the room marched up and parted with the general in chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.”

It’s a wonderful pub, with a museum attached. I thought it’d be a great idea to drink over our shared history.

We noticed there were open seats in front of the pub on the street. As it was a glorious night, we thought we’d sit outside and enjoy it.

Little did we know we were encroaching on claimed territory.

Not five minutes after we sat, the rats came out in full force.

No joke… these rats were running from one sewer hole to another, with the route running under our chairs.

It was positively revolting!

We ran back inside to finish our drinks and then hightailed it out of there. I’m sure it’s not Fraunces’ fault. It’s crap city management.

That opinion was confirmed when NYC Mayor and Chief of Uselessness Eric Adams appointed a “rat czar.”

What’s a Director of Rodent Migration?

I guess we don’t hate the Russians so much to stop using the term “czar.”

But if the unions only let innovation have its way, we’d probably not need one.

For instance, when I was in Florence earlier this year, I noticed the Florentines innovated their trash stash and collection. It was so cool!

trash removal in Florence

Credit: Sean Ring

Basically, the garbage cans are attached to the top of a huge underground trash box. When it’s time to collect the garbage, the garbage truck lifts up the box by the can with a crane. Then the trap door underneath opens and the trash goes into the truck.

No garbagemen! Now that’s innovation.

Alas, NYC doesn’t innovate in such ways.

So Mayor Adams appointed Kathleen Corradi as New York City’s first-ever director of “rodent mitigation.”

From The New York Times:

Ms. Corradi is not a trained rodentologist. A former elementary school teacher, she developed the city’s Zero Waste Schools initiative while at the Education Department and led the agency’s rodent reduction efforts.

She will oversee the city’s existing army of rat experts. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene already has a rodent biologist on staff, the renowned urban rodentologist Robert Corrigan, who has been busy installing movement sensors on city streets to monitor rat behavior. The health department also has an Office of Pest Control, and there is a citywide rodent task force.

Mr. Adams said Ms. Corradi will connect those bodies with agencies like the Department of Sanitation, in a concerted push to help battle some of the city’s longest-tenured and most notorious residents.

“You’ll be seeing a lot of me and a lot less rats,” said Ms. Corradi, who will be paid $155,000 a year.

I can think of a lot of places where $155,000 could go.

But we wouldn’t want a repeat of The Black Death, would we?

The Black Death of 1347-1350

Rats played a significant role in the spread of the Black Death, the devastating pandemic that occurred in Europe between 1347 and 1350. Also known as the Bubonic Plague, the bacterium Yersinia pestis caused it.

The primary carriers of Yersinia pestis are fleas that infest rats, specifically, the species known as the black rat (Rattus rattus) and the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). During the Middle Ages, these rat species were commonly found in cities and towns throughout Europe.

The transmission of the disease occurred in the following way: fleas would infest rats and feed on their blood, ingesting the Yersinia pestis bacteria. When infected rats died, fleas would seek new hosts, including humans. When a flea bit an infected rat and then bit a human, it transmitted the bacteria into the person’s bloodstream.

The dense rat populations in urban areas, combined with unsanitary living conditions, provided the perfect environment for the rapid spread of the disease. Rats would infest homes, streets, and markets, bringing infected fleas into close proximity to humans. Additionally, rats’ tendency to travel on ships facilitated the spread of the disease between different regions.

The Black Death devastated Europe, with an estimated 25 to 50 million deaths during the epidemic. The disease spread quickly, causing high mortality rates and significant social and economic disruptions.

It would take Europe centuries to recover.

Besides our historical lesson, there are some very real reasons to keep the rats at bay.

The Genuine Dangers of an Out-of-Control Rat Population

Let’s face it. We children of the modern and postmodern eras have merely thought trash laying around is “disgusting” or “ugly.” It’s rare to have the prescience to think it’s a health hazard.

After all, we haven’t had to worry about that for a good, long while.

Sewage systems and trash collection were invented a long time ago. And it was working just fine up until recently.

So let’s refresh ourselves on why an out-of-control rat population is a real danger:

  1. Health Hazards: Rats are carriers of various diseases transmitted to humans. They spread bacteria, viruses, and parasites through their droppings, urine, and bites. Some of the diseases associated with rats include leptospirosis, salmonellosis, hantavirus, rat-bite fever, and plague. These diseases cause severe illness and death.
  1. Property Damage: Rats have strong teeth that continually grow, leading them to gnaw on various objects to control the length of their teeth. They cause significant damage to buildings, infrastructure, electrical wiring, and pipes. Chewed wires result in electrical fires, and structural damage weakens buildings, posing risks to occupants.
  1. Contamination of Food Sources: Rats are notorious for contaminating food supplies in storage facilities, warehouses, restaurants, and homes. They can chew through packaging, leave droppings and urine on food items, and spread pathogens. This contamination poses a significant risk to public health, leading to foodborne illnesses.
  1. Damage to Agricultural Areas: Rats are awful for agricultural areas surrounding cities. They destroy crops, feed on stored grain, and damage farm equipment. This results in losses for farmers, lower availability, and lower affordability of food.
  1. Negative Impact on Tourism and Business: A city plagued by a severe rat infestation suffers from a damaged reputation. The presence of rats in public spaces, restaurants, or hotels deter tourists and visitors. Additionally, businesses lose financially because of rate damage and the subsequent expenses to fix the problem.
  1. Ecological Disruption: Rats have adverse effects on local ecosystems. They prey on native bird eggs and compete with other small mammals for resources, disrupting the balance of local wildlife. This leads to a biodiversity decline.

Wrap Up

Only in America?

Nah, it could happen anywhere with pisspoor government oversight.

I wonder if Mayor Adams even thought of privatizing garbage collection.

Why not? It would almost certainly be better than this government service.

But more than that, rampant rats dent NYC’s reputation and keep people away.

And no big city can afford that post-government-mandated private-sector shutdown.

Let me know what you think by emailing me here.

Have a good rest of your week!

The Daily Reckoning