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[Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire] Economy of Westros

wheloc

He's trying real hard to be one of the good guys.
RPGnet Member
Validated User
The economy of Westros makes no sense to me, and this bugs me more than it should.

- Martin drones on and on about what the characters, but gives very little thought to how food is produced or distributed. This is a world where winter can last for years, and we all know winter is coming, yet food production and storage seems to have little or no bearing on military strategy. Real world castles are useful because they let you protect farmland and give you places to store food, but in Westros they only seem useful if you built them on the way from something to something else.

- The Dothraki are a nomadic horse people, yet they apparently outnumber the agricultural society of the Westrosi? This stretches my credulity; there are certainly horse-based societies that managed to threaten agricultural societies, but usually because they used superior tactics and/or technology, NOT because they outnumbered them. Agriculture is useful because it allows for a higher population density, so even if your average citizen is a less-able fighter, you can still field a large dedicated military.

- The Iron Bank is apparently wealthy enough to fund generations of war in Westros, and somehow considers this to be a good investment? What does Westros produce that the Iron Bank wants? Medieval states didn't have a huge GDP to pay off loans with. Yeah, this is fantasy, but Westros doesn't strike me as a fantasy state with a modern economy. A lot of people also think they could solve their problems with enough cash (John thinks he could buy a bunch of supplies to defend the Wall, for example), yet it seems like (with Winter coming, and all) food is going to be more useful to EVERYBODY than gold, and no one would be selling.

The only thing that makes sense to me is if Westros is some little podunk corner of the world and if there's some huge a comparatively modern society out there. Some place that's large enough so the Dothraki raiding is only a miner annoyance and that can support the Iron Bank making a series of increasingly poor investments.

Now, I'm not a scholar the Song of Ice and Fire, so maybe there are some decent explanations hidden in some part of the text (or scene of the show) that I glossed over, or maybe I'm just remembering things. If so, please share them with me.

...or join me in complaint. That's always fun too :)
 

Rikimaru

Ninja Comedian
Validated User
Just remember that all logistics in the story make no sense. Anything from the height of the Wall to the size of Westeros is based purely on how awesome Martin thought it would be.

And you have people travelling hundreds of miles in a few weeks and then other taking months to cover a fraction of that.

Just don't try to make sense of any mundane fact in the setting because as soon as you do, you've officially put more thought into it than the creator did and that's the start of a slippery slope. :)
 

Ashavan

Registered User
Validated User
The economy of Westros makes no sense to me, and this bugs me more than it should.

- Martin drones on and on about what the characters, but gives very little thought to how food is produced or distributed. This is a world where winter can last for years, and we all know winter is coming, yet food production and storage seems to have little or no bearing on military strategy. Real world castles are useful because they let you protect farmland and give you places to store food, but in Westros they only seem useful if you built them on the way from something to something else.
In the books there was a fair amount of talk about hoarding supplies to last through the winter, especially in Winterfell. And it also is very strongly implied that all those lords and kings who are burning through those supplies in order to fight the war are making extremely short-sighted decisions that will come back to haunt them when winter comes.

- The Dothraki are a nomadic horse people, yet they apparently outnumber the agricultural society of the Westrosi? This stretches my credulity; there are certainly horse-based societies that managed to threaten agricultural societies, but usually because they used superior tactics and/or technology, NOT because they outnumbered them. Agriculture is useful because it allows for a higher population density, so even if your average citizen is a less-able fighter, you can still field a large dedicated military.
I don't think the Dothraki necessarily outnumber the Westerosi. They're just a big extremely warlike people who would pose a major threat to the warrior class of a divided Westeros if they ever made it across the sea.

- The Iron Bank is apparently wealthy enough to fund generations of war in Westros, and somehow considers this to be a good investment? What does Westros produce that the Iron Bank wants? Medieval states didn't have a huge GDP to pay off loans with. Yeah, this is fantasy, but Westros doesn't strike me as a fantasy state with a modern economy. A lot of people also think they could solve their problems with enough cash (John thinks he could buy a bunch of supplies to defend the Wall, for example), yet it seems like (with Winter coming, and all) food is going to be more useful to EVERYBODY than gold, and no one would be selling.

The only thing that makes sense to me is if Westros is some little podunk corner of the world and if there's some huge a comparatively modern society out there. Some place that's large enough so the Dothraki raiding is only a miner annoyance and that can support the Iron Bank making a series of increasingly poor investments.
I never got the impression that the Iron Bank has had such a sustained focus on stirring up chaos in Westeros "because profit!" or anything like that. But they're a financial institution that's large enough to lend to kingdoms, and if you don't pay them back, they're going to break your kneecaps on a geopolitical scale. I think Martin modeled this after the medieval Venetian banks.

Now, I'm not a scholar the Song of Ice and Fire, so maybe there are some decent explanations hidden in some part of the text (or scene of the show) that I glossed over, or maybe I'm just remembering things. If so, please share them with me.

...or join me in complaint. That's always fun too :)
Of course, having said all that, I will acknowledge that Martin is not very good with concepts like numbers and scale (as he has repeatedly admitted), so take all of it with a grain of salt.
 
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Thanaeon

Mostly simulationist
Validated User
Of course, having said all that, I will acknowledge that Martin is not very good with concepts like numbers and scale (as he has repeatedly admitted), so take all of it with a grain of salt.
Or to put it in cheeky RPG terms: G.R.R. Martin writes his stories from a narrativist viewpoint, not a simulationist one. ;)

I mean, he writes damn good fiction. And its gritty nature makes it seem "simulationist" on the surface, too, especially with the unexpected deaths of major protagonists. (Incidentally, Robb Stark's death was perhaps the finest example of "win every battle, lose the war" ever!) But the only thing in the story which makes sense after you scratch the surface are the characters. He writes good characters. (I mean, evil sonovabitch characters, but you get what I mean. ;) ) Logistics, economics, distances, geography, sociology? Nuh-uh. Not even a little bit.

Oh, yeah - I think his fight scenes are fairly decent, too. But his real strength is absolutely his character work.
 

Daztur

Seoulite
Validated User
For the Dothraki outnumbering the Westerosi where does that come from? I never got the impression that they were especially numerous.

For the food storage we get talk about them setting food aside for the winter and how they've been doing that for years but we never get much mention of the massive food stores this would entail, especially when this would make a difference in a lot of the Riverlands campaign (easy to resist sieges because you have a whole winter supply for food etc. etc.).

Don't think the Iron Bank bit is too confusing or unrealistic at all, they only loan a portion of the crown's debt (IIRC 1/7) and I'm sure Littlefinger offered them good rates before skipping out of dodge. Saddling the crown with a debt to the Iron Bank fits him well and private banking houses loaning lots of money to kings happened all the time in European history. This bit is perfectly fine.

Other bits that don't make sense:
-If you take Martin's idea that Westeros is as big as South America then the travel times make no sense. I just assume it's a good bit smaller to fix that.
-Does the crown collect any tax money at all from bits outside the crown lands? If not, how the hell does the crown get money? If yes, then how the hell does the Vale and Dorne stay neutral, who the hell are they forwarding royal tax money to during the war? Are they just keeping it? Why does this never get mentioned?
-If you compare the sizes of the armies involved to realistic populations for the various areas fielding them they're a tiny proportion of the population, which makes sense. Medieval armies were tiny compared to the population of the countries that fielded them because of logistic/funding issues. So that makes sense, but then why the hell are areas that haven't seen fighting described as lacking in able bodies men. How the hell did Robb's army of 20,000 that he marched south with make the North run low on able bodied men? Enough to make the harvest hard to collect in some areas? Is the population density of Westeros THAT low? If so then a whole slew of other things don't make sense since Medieval rulers basically never were able to field armies in sizes that mattered demographically (now if the fighting happened IN your area your demographics could get horribly fucked like with the Riverlands, that makes sense but there's aren't French Revolution and later mass armies we're talking about here...).

I don't really think that Martin's worldbuilding is especially strong outside of a few great locations (like Braavos and some of the great castles) and some of the magical metaphysics that have been hinted at, what makes Westeros interesting is the incredibly massive and dense web of characters who are connected to each other, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, the world those character inhabit on the other hand isn't especially interesting.
 
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Propagandor

Square-Cube Law Compliant
Validated User
Anecdote: When GRRM wrote the series he patted himself on the back because he "only" made the Wall 700 feet high, his first instinct was to make it a mile high.

Only when he looked into a 400 feet deep quarry did he realise his mistake.
 

Daztur

Seoulite
Validated User
Anecdote: When GRRM wrote the series he patted himself on the back because he "only" made the Wall 700 feet high, his first instinct was to make it a mile high.

Only when he looked into a 400 feet deep quarry did he realise his mistake.
Especially with
Spoiler: Show
arrows reaching the top :) Apparently an especially stupid book fan used this as evidence that people in Westeros are stronger then on Earth.
 
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Sabermane

Proud Fianna knight of hope and peace
Validated User
Has anybody figured out what kind of food storage/grain magic they have to keep supplies over generations of winter yet?!
 

Menocchio

Eccentric Thousandaire
Validated User
Has anybody figured out what kind of food storage/grain magic they have to keep supplies over generations of winter yet?!
Years, but not generations. The younger generation in the novels somewhat unique for having never seen a winter. Usually summer isn't that long, which is why people are especially nervous about the coming winter.
 
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