Winter is Coming: a public servant's prognosis for Westeros
The Game of Thrones universe appears to many as a world of little more than fantasy, political intrigue, awkward sexual encounters and barbaric violence. Yet the world of George R.R. Martin’s Seven Kingdoms is not driven by lust for power (or other types of lust) alone, but by cold economic realities. The economy Westeros has much in common with our contemporary society – excluding the occasional dragon – which can provide valuable lessons to economists about the perils of poor fiscal management.
Despite the magic and mystery of Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms rely on an economy much like Australia’s. An economy clearly rooted in the ground: agriculture and commodities like gold, silver and even our beloved iron drive the Westerosi economy. Yet for the pre-industrial agrarian society of Westeros an overreliance on commodities has resulted in a situation of unpayable sovereign debt. The resource rich mines of Westernland, controlled by House Lannister, are rapidly drying up, even though the Lannisters are known for paying their debts. With the crown increasingly indebted, Cersei has added to her shame by suggesting that she did not pass first year economics. As payments to the Iron Bank seize up, a new source of income is essential to maintain the crown. But, as economic stagnation looms overhead, an ‘ideas boom’ is likely not on the horizon as economic advisors duck for cover in an increasingly unstable environment.
Also like Australia, fertile and temperate regions spawn strong economic activity in the form of agriculture. The bread basket of Westeros lies under the control of House Tyrell, on the path to establishing themselves as a new economic hegemon in the kingdoms. The ebb and flow of the Westerosi business cycle appears to be linked to the seasons, however, an extra reason to be worried that winter is coming. With the unsettling challenge of climate change in the foreseeable future, economic reliance on agriculture may find itself at the behest of conditions that yield poor crops, destabilising the GDP of a rapidly growing House. Here too economists can learn a lesson, as real world externalities stemming from our own climate change might yield a similar effect, albeit with fewer armies of the dead.
A common currency, too, is creating stress for the Westerosi economy. With soaring sovereign debt, Gold Dragons appear an unstable store of value in years to come. With a system of kingdoms all under one currency, differing attitudes toward fiscal management and re-payment cause tension to the collective economic framework of the region. Clear breaches of sovereignty in richer agricultural regions take the form of increased taxes to finance Kings Landing’s inclination toward war and boozing, in turn agitating political allies. To some states, the transfer of economic sovereignty upward for supposed gains in efficiency may not be beneficial, as certain kingdoms depress the overall GDP of the region. The mismanaging of Kings Landing has laid the seeds for political upheaval, as the Iron Bank manoeuvres to ensure it gets its due. Perhaps Brussels should pay more astute attention to season six, with European exit a serious concern in the region and sovereign debt seriously impeding the future confidence in the Euro.
Even more worrying to the world of Westeros is the lack of public funding provided to the Night’s Watch. As a public good, the benefits of the Nights are provided to all. Guarding the Wall for 8,000 years, the watch once stood 10,000 strong in an effort to provide public defence of the Seven Kingdoms. Irrespective of payment, the Watch performs a duty that yields a clear positive externality for the Seven Kingdoms. Economic freeloaders keen to focus on decapitating rivals and lavish parties have left the Watch in a state of financial turmoil, with only a few brothers remaining for farm the land of “the Gift”. With a lack of globalised forms of communication, it is difficult to internalise the externalities provided by the Watch. Coupled with a refugee crisis, as a huge impoverished population is forced to flee, the situation in the North forms an enormous economic landmine. The attempted resettlement of migrants was met with strong hostility, as nationalist sentiments and protectionist trade policies still formed the norm. However charismatic and bold leadership (a facet many believe to be missing in our own world) through Jon Snow aided the integration of refugee communities in an effort to improve economic conditions. The importance of skilled migration in times of economic uncertainty, as highlighted by the Watch, bears a strong parallel to the unfolding refugee crisis in earthly Kingdoms of our own.
Stemming from both coin and steel, many challenges lie ahead for the denizens of Westeros. For Robert Baratheon, “counting copper” was tedious business. His sentiments seem common amongst the political figures in Game of Thrones, but this apathetic attitude is a surer path to destruction than going one-on-one with the Hound. What is it they say? Valar fisculis: all men must administer sound fiscal policy.