A Song of Ice and Economics

The Citadel

A Game of Thrones, The Citadel Library, ©HBO

The Grand Maester’s Conspiracy is that the Maesters have conspired over the centuries to destroy magic and manipulate historical records in Westeros for centuries. However, politics and economics go hand-in-hand. The Maesters have more control than anyone gives them credit, and it is all due to the white ravens sent out by the Citadel to announce the changing of the season.

Let’s take a step back from Planetos and consider Earth. Though our physical seasons are of fixed length and can be tracked accurately on a modern calendar; even before modern calendars the length of the seasons was well known and regular religious holidays were constructed to fit with the changing of the seasons. However, that which matches up to the seasons of Planetos on Earth are the economic seasons! The upturns and downturns of an economy, while obvious once a recession or recovery has begun, are still beyond our capabilities to predict when changes in economic climate will occur and how long they will last.

While this may seem a simple analogy to connect the citizens of Planetos to those of Earth, the business cycle *is* what occurs in Westeros when Winter arrives. Those Sweet Summer Children only know economic prosperity. Winter is coupled with famine and death from exposure. In fact, in an agrarian medieval society, the weather would be intimately connected with the economic welfare of the nation. Prosperity is coupled with good growing weather while economic downturns are, indeed, during winter.

While in the United States of America, for instance, we have the Federal Reserve which is tasked with regulating the economy, the Seven Kingdoms has no analog. The Master of Coin keeps the Iron Throne’s fiscal house in order and controls the minting of new Gold Dragons, but ultimately is not tasked with controlling unemployment. It would indeed be a conspiracy if anyone could control even a bit of the business cycle in Westeros due to its intimate connection with the weather. But, that is what the Maesters have been able to accomplish on a limited scale.

The Maesters, in their studies at the Citadel with their detailed histories of Westeros, would surely notice the deep connection that the state of people have with the weather. The first, obvious direction, that bad weather leads to a distraught populace is clear. However, the connection goes the other direction as well. Bold statements need bold evidence. Let’s consider 3 notable winters:

  1. A winter began during the the middle of the Dance of Dragons in 130AC, which was a particularly hard winter with the winter fever during this period as well.
  2. Another harsh winter lasted from 230-236AC, and during this period the 4th Blackfyre Rebellion occurred.
  3. Finally, the Year of the False Spring (281AC) occurred at the exact time of the Great Tournament at Harrenhal when when Rhaegar Targaryen “kidnapped” Lyanna Stark, which directly precipitated Robert’s Rebellion. Though the Maester’s hadn’t determined winter was over yet, everyone seemingly believed that was the case. Given that the “Year of the False Spring” needs no other descriptor, expresses how uncommon such an event is in Westeros.

The Maesters, who send distinct white ravens throughout the Seven Kingdoms to announce the change of seasons, could therefore control the business cycle by merely announcing that the season is changing. Just as choice words from the Chairperson of the Federal Reserve can precipitate economic changes, the sending of white ravens can cause people to despair (announcement of fall or winter) or become exuberant (announcement of spring or summer). But these have a secondary, pernicious effect, on the citizens of Westeros. At the coming of Winter, a negative supply shock will hit the agricultural markets as everyone hoards foodstuffs to survive or to profit off of inflated prices during the peaks of winter (as a result of everyone else’s actions). This latter effect can either deepen the economic/seasonal downturn or, in fact, precipitate it.

The Maesters certainly do not start all season changes. The current winter, with its linkage with the white walkers, is clearly beyond their control. But the power to control, even minimally, the seasons beyond the knowledge of the Iron Throne and Great Houses is a great power indeed. Such control can easily be used for accumulating and maintaining power. Were providing counsel to lords not sufficient to keep all houses following the desired order, a seasonal change could be called in with those symbolic white ravens that the common people would notice. During hardship is when counsel is needed most. If that counsel is to ignore best practices during a supply-side recession thus creating a stagflation period and undue hardship, who else has studied for years to argue the Maesters are wrong. The people, after all, won’t blame the Maesters. Truly knowledge is power. And enough knowledge is control.