“GOT” FOLK FACE FA­MIL­IAR WOES

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Christo­pher S. Ru­gaber, Paul Wise­man and Josh Boak

From the North comes an army of ice zom­bies. From the East, an ar­mada led by the “Mother of Dragons.” In the South, an evil queen plots world dom­i­na­tion. The world of “Game of Thrones” may not sound much like our own. But af­ter watch­ing HBO’S hit se­ries for six sea­sons, we’ve found some striking sim­i­lar­i­ties.

The lords, ladies and com­mon folk of Wes­teros are con­fronting some fa­mil­iar-sound­ing prob­lems: Only the wealthy seem to stay afloat fi­nan­cially, no mat­ter how reck­less they are. Grid­lock, in­fight­ing and in­com­pe­tence de­fine the gov­ern­ment. Many in power turn a blind eye to the ex­is­ten­tial threat of cli­mate change.

As fans count down the days to the HBO se­ries’ seventh sea­son, which be­gins Sun­day in the United States, The As­so­ci­ated Press is look­ing at the show through a unique lens: Its econ­omy.

Even in a world with magic, dragons and deadly su­per­nat­u­ral White Walk­ers, the pop­u­lar show has plenty of eco­nomic lessons. Here are five key take­aways:

The im­por­tance of banks

Most fans know about the Iron Bank of Braavos. It’s so se­cre­tive and pow­er­ful that Gold­man Sachs looks like an in­vest­ing club for el­derly re­tirees by com­par­i­son. But rather than open a branch in Wes­teros, the Iron Bank op­er­ates across the Nar­row Sea in Es­sos.

This ef­fec­tively leaves all of Wes­teros with­out a ma­jor bank — which makes it harder to save money, bor­row for wars or even in­vest in busi­nesses that would hire and in­no­vate.

Af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, many Amer­i­cans nat­u­rally thought of bankers as vil­lains. But Wes­teros shows the trou­ble of a world with­out fi­nanciers or trans­par­ent lend­ing — debts for­ever build for gov­ern­ments, while few cit­i­zens are able to in­vest in them­selves.

Stag­nant economies were the norm for cen­turies

In the United States, the econ­omy is grow­ing at only 2 per­cent, in­stead of its post-world War II av­er­age of 3 per­cent. That’s sparked po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy and con­trib­uted to the rise of politi­cians like Don­ald Trump and Bernie San­ders. Wes­teros wishes it was so lucky. Wes­teros ap­pears to have made zero eco­nomic progress over sev­eral cen­turies and have ar­guably re­gressed. Dur­ing 300 years in the United States, peo­ple got in­door plumb­ing, elec­tric lights and cars. But Wes­teros’ ex­pe­ri­ence is much closer to hu­man

his­tory. Data tracked by the late econ­o­mist An­gus Mad­di­son sug­gests that growth in Western Europe from 1000 to 1500 AD av­er­aged a barely there 0.3 per­cent a year.

Magic isn’t help­ing in­no­va­tion

Wes­teros has seen lit­tle tech­no­log­i­cal progress over its pre­vi­ous 8,000 years. That’s strange be­cause de­vel­op­ing air­planes or bal­lis­tic mis­siles would be a nat­u­ral counter to a fear­some beast like Dro­gon, the big­gest dragon on “Game of Thrones.”

“The ex­is­tence of these weapons should spur an off­set­ting arms race,” says Ly­man Stone, an econ­o­mist who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about the show.

But in Wes­teros there ap­pears to be a short­age of proven tech­nol­ogy, let alone re­search for new tools. No one ap­pears to have mass pro­duced Va­lyr­ian steel or drag­on­glass — two ma­te­ri­als that can kill the ghostly White Walk­ers from the North.

Vi­o­lence slows growth

In “Game of Thrones,” en­tire so­ci­eties live mostly by plun­der­ing oth­ers.

Adam Smith, the god­fa­ther of modern eco­nom­ics, says vi­o­lence in me­dieval so­ci­eties killed off growth. Any­one who thrived, he noted, would be­come a tar­get for par­a­sites like the Greyjoys.

Barry Wein­gast, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Stan­ford Univer­sity and se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, found that the poor­est 10 per­cent of na­tions ex­pe­ri­ence a coup, on av­er­age, nearly ev­ery year.

Of course, some wars can lead to faster growth by sweep­ing away old so­cial and eco­nomic struc­tures and spurring in­no­va­tion. But that hasn’t hap­pened in Wes­teros. The same fam­i­lies — the Starks, the Tyrells, the Lan­nis­ters — have held onto the bulk of wealth and power for cen­turies.

They’re all in this to­gether, whether they know it or not

There’s an army of ice-zom­bies com­ing with the White Walk­ers, but most of the lords and ladies of Wes­teros can’t be bothered. They’re too busy with joust­ing tour­na­ments, plea­sure houses and fine wine — or schem­ing to grab the Iron Throne for them­selves.

Where to watch it:

HBO won’t be host­ing a watch party on Sun­day, but a few lo­cal spots will do so.»

Econ­o­mists call this a “col­lec­tive ac­tion prob­lem” — a sit­u­a­tion in which ev­ery­one faces the same threat, but no one in­di­vid­ual has an in­cen­tive to ad­dress or even ad­mit the prob­lem. Those who let oth­ers sac­ri­fice to solve com­mon prob­lems are called “free riders.”

Charli Car­pen­ter, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts-amherst, has called “Game of Thrones” a “col­lec­tive ac­tion story.”

“Plan­e­tary forces are mov­ing slowly but in­ex­orably to­ward cli­matic catas­tro­phe as the in­fight­ing among kings and queens dis­tracts them from the big­ger pic­ture,” she wrote in the jour­nal For­eign Af­fairs in 2012.

Pho­tos cour­tesy of HBO

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