By Nicholas Haberling
If you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to overthink movies, books, and TV shows. Game of Thrones is no different. Prior to hopping on the Thrones band wagon, my friends would try to explain to me the history of Westeros and the origins of the Wall. For those of you who still refuse to watch the show, the Wall is a giant ice structure built thousands of years ago to separate the realms of men from the White Walkers (or Others for the book fans). I initially thought it was ridiculous that a society which built a continent spanning wall eight thousand years earlier was still stuck in the Middle Ages, but as I began to take interest in the series I also started justifying the lack of societal progress. While that is not the primary subject of today’s post, it did provide the genesis for this topic. With all that said, we will be looking at the GDP of The Seven Kingdoms and how it usually fluctuates between the various seasons of Westeros. Next, we will take a look at the economic situation of The Seven Kingdoms after the War of the Five Kings and how it has fared under Cersei’s “wise” rule. Finally, as Daenerys and Tyrion prepare to land in Westeros, they seek the wise advice of Essos businessman Niklaus Haberling (very original) in determining how to fix The Seven Kingdoms.
We will begin by breaking up The Seven Kingdoms into its various provinces. While most of us are familiar with the seven historical kingdoms within the realm, there are actually nine governed regions.
Disclaimer: If you aren’t interested in the numbers or how they were derived, just skip to the section titled The Seven Kingdoms GDP
According to a highly scientific article(1) about the different regions of Westeros and their historical equivalents, the Westerlands are similar to medieval England. In order to determine the approximate GDP of the Westerlands we will first extract its GDP per capita purchasing power parity by comparing it to England at the start of the Late Middle Ages. Historical data(2) collected by British economist Angus Maddison shows that GDP per capita PPP in England in the year 1000 AD was 400 international 1990’s dollars and 714 dollars by the year 1500 AD. Don't ask why they use 1990 as a standard. Assuming a growth rate of .00116 percent, by the year 1300 (start of the Late Middle Ages), England had a GDP per capita PPP of $566.37. Translating this to Westeros, this means on an individual basis, each person in the Westerlands had the purchasing power of 566.37 in 1990 international dollars.
Next, we will try to find the population of the Westerlands. Luckily other fans of Game of Thrones have done their own research(3) on this subject. If the Westerlands can field an army of 55,000 soldiers then we can assume the region has an overall population of approximately 5.5 million. This is derived from the belief that medieval nations could support a large force in the field numbering between .5% and 2% of their population. Like the authors of the cited blogpost, we used 1%.
Using some basic multiplication we get:
$566.37 GDP per capita PPP X 5,500,000 people = $2,950,035,000 GDP PPP
However that is not the final answer. GDP per capita PPP doesn’t exactly transfer to a region or nation’s nominal GDP. In fact when you multiply the US per capita PPP(4) by the US population(5) you only get 91% of the nation’s total GDP. We will use the difference between US GDP PPP and US Nominal GDP in order to get a more accurate nominal GDP for the Westerlands.
$52,704.20 US GDP per capita PPP X 324,100,000 people = $17,081,431,220,000 GDP PPP
$18,569,100,000,000 US Nominal GDP / $17,081,431,220,000 GDP PPP = 1.087092748
$2,950,035,000 Westerlands GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $3,206,961,654 Westerlands Nominal GDP
When analyzing the following regions we will skip some of the steps detailed above for the sake of time.
The North is depicted as being similar to Scotland. Sadly, there wasn’t any information available on medieval Scotland’s GDP per capita PPP so I had to resort to the detailed analysis of historical films such as Brave Heart. After repeatedly watching the destruction of Scottish forces on YouTube, I decided the average Scottish citizen had 80% of the purchasing power of their English counterpart back in the day. I know, very scientific.
This meant the North’s GDP per capita PPP was $453.10. Being able to raise an army 40,000 soldiers, the North subsequently has a population of four million people. So the math continues.
$453.10 GDP per capita PPP X 4,000,000 people = $1,812,400,000 GDP PPP
$1,812,400,000 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $1,970,246,895.97 North Nominal GDP
The Iron Islands
Assuming a straight-line growth rate of GDP per capita PPP in Norway from the years 1000 AD to 1500 AD, the GDP per capita PPP was $516.13 in the year 1300. But wait! This means the Iron Born were better off than the Northerners! While the Northerners have more resources than the Iron Born, this just goes to show that raiding and thieving can provide a nice economic boost in at least monetary terms. Regardless, with the ability to send 15,000 pseudo-Vikings to wreak havoc across Westeros’ coastlines, the Iron Islands have a population of 1.5 million.
$516.13 GDP per capita PPP X 1,500,000 people = $774,193,112 GDP PPP
$774,193,112 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $841,619,718 Iron Islands Nominal GDP
I decided the Stormlands have 90% of the GDP per capita PPP as the Westerlands. This is arbitrarily chosen by looking at non-economic historical events from their real-world counterparts. During the Edwardian conquest of 1282, England (Westerlands), defeated Wales (Stormlands). Therefore the losing side gets a lower assumed GDP per capita PPP than the victor. Furthermore being able to field 25,000 soldiers means the Stormlands have a population of 2.5 million people.
$509.74 GDP per capita PPP X 2,500,000 people = $1,274,351,982 GDP PPP
$1,274,351,982 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = Stormlands Nominal GDP
In the Huffington Post article showing The Seven Kingdoms and their real world equivalents, the Crownlands are shown as being London. Since I couldn’t find any meaningful information on London per capita GDP I decided to use the England stats for the Crownlands as well. With 15,000 soldiers, the Crownlands have a population of 1.5 million people.
$566.38 GDP per capita PPP X 1,500,000 people = $804,555,000 GDP PPP
$804,555,000 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $874,625,906 Nominal GDP
Moving along I will only be showing how I got the population for the following regions and the math that follows. Each regions assumed GDP per capita PPP can be found in the accompanying Excel sheet. Just scroll down to the year 1300.
An army of 40,000 soldiers translates to a population of 4 million.
$560.033 GDP per capita PPP X 4,000,000 people = $2,240,130,480 GDP PPP
$2,240,130,480 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $2,435,229,599 Nominal GDP
The Vale of Arryn
Once again 40,000 soldiers means a population of around 4 million.
$532.21 GDP per capita PPP X 4,000,000 people = $2,128,851,799 GDP PPP
$2,128,851,799 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $2,314,259,351 Nominal GDP
120,000 soldiers translates to a population of 12 million.
$585.76 GDP per capita PPP X 12,000,000 people = $7,029,172,065 GDP PPP
$7,029,172,065 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $7,641,361,974 Nominal GDP
30,000 soldiers gets a population of 3 million.
$566.89 GDP per capita PPP X 3,000,000 people = $1,700,658,796 GDP PPP
$1,700,658,796 GDP PPP X 1.087092748 = $1,848,773,844 Nominal GDP
The Seven Kingdoms GDP
Based off of these calculations we can say The Seven Kingdoms has a Nominal GDP of $22,518,417,739 in International 1990 dollars. Using an inflation calculator(6) that would be $43,631,053,838 in 2017 dollars. In the spirit of full disclosure there a couple of both Thrones-universe and real world problems with this final GDP. In terms of real world problems, I’m not aware of the actual methods for translating per capita purchasing power parity into a nation’s nominal GDP. Also this appears to produce a continuity error within the Thrones-universe. The Westerlands is always described as being wealthier than the Reach, but in my calculations the Reach is wealthier by a very health margin. Regardless, this is the first attempt I’ve seen at least, in trying to get an actual number for The Seven Kingdoms’ GDP.
Westeros GDP Cycle
My personal theory is that for the past eight thousand years Westeros has effectively economically flat-lined. Growth can only reach a ceiling during the spring and summer, before falling back down as everyone prepares for the inevitably long winter.
We will look at it from the traditional aspects of GDP: Personal Consumption Expenditures, Gross Private Investment, Government Sector Spending, and Net Exports. Since there are no large private organizations of importance in Westeros, we will eliminate private investment from this analysis.
Personal Consumption Expenditures: This takes into account expenditures relating to durable goods, non-durable goods, and services. During the spring and summer, personal consumption would be high. The trade of foodstuffs would increase in order to feed a population attempting to reach equilibrium after the many deaths during the multi-year winter. Services would also be in demand as farmers hire field hands and merchants hire people to both transport and protect their goods. During the autumn, personal consumption takes a sharp dive as people begin to stow away both durable and non-durable goods for the winter, and without money from their own sales, they also refrain from purchasing goods from others. By winter, personal consumption expenditures are non-existent as people begin to dig into whatever supplies they gathered in order to survive the winter.
Government Sector Spending: Is the sum of government expenditures on final goods and services. It includes salaries of public servants, purchases of weapons for the military and any investment expenditure by a government. With that in mind, during the spring and summer the Iron Throne and regional Wardens would likely focus their efforts on repairing castles, mines, bridges, and roads damaged during the winter. Meaning government spending increases dramatically compared to the winter. In the autumn, government spending would decrease, but likely would still be present as the Iron Throne and Wardens buy any available crop surpluses in order to feed larger castle and city populations during the winter. When winter comes there will be little government spending other than paying for a small standing army or guard force. The Night’s Watch would fall into this category, though they are underfunded.
Net Exports: The difference between a nation’s imports and exports. In the spring and summer, Westeros is likely a net exporter. With a smaller population after the winter, it is possible farmers would initially be growing a surplus of crops which would be sold to the Free Cities. In both the autumn and winter Westeros becomes a net importer, meaning it has a trade deficit. While goods from the Free Cities and Essos would be able to reach inner Westeros during the autumn, in the winter when long distance travel is impossible, trade would be limited to coastal towns.
Essentially the Westeros’ Economic Cycle is a series of repeating bell curves. This subsistence and repeating economy is why Westeros has been technologically stagnant for thousands of years.
My Humble Opinion
Setting the stage: The Riverlands have been the major battlefield of the War of the Five Kings and has experienced extensive damage. Crops have been destroyed and thousands of refugees have fled. The North and Westerlands have seen a significant portion of their fighting men killed and obviously they can no longer help bring in crops in preparation for winter. Kings Landing has also experienced a swarm of refugees fleeing the war. Furthermore it has been reported that the gold mines around Casterly Rock have run their course. And as if things could get even worse, the Iron Throne is over 6 million golden dragons in debt (I will not be trying to figure out an exchange rate between dragons and dollars).
If asked for my opinion, I would tell Daenerys and Tyrion to turn their ships around and sail back for Essos. Prolonged warfare at this point would only hurt the average citizen of The Seven Kingdoms since at the very least it would interrupt the late harvests. But if they must invade and turn the economic situation of Westeros around, there are a few steps they could take.
- Kill the Lannisters (minus Tyrion): I wouldn’t suggest this simply because I despise Cersei. It is actually the easiest way to get rid of a large portion of the Iron Throne’s debt. Of the 6 million golden dragons the Iron Throne owes to its debtors, 3 million of that goes to House Lannister. You don’t need to pay back a dead House and I doubt Tyrion would issue any complaints.
- Restructure Interest Payments: “I have altered the deal, pray I don’t alter it any further.” Darth Vader could alter deals because he had power. Lucky for Daenerys, she will soon be the most powerful person in Westeros. What does this mean? She can bully the Iron Bank of Braavos into lowering the interest rate on the Iron Throne’s debt. With the Iron Born/Vikings on her side she could have them steal Iron Bank ships or worse. She also has dragons. I’m not one for using violence to get my way, but we are playing the game of thrones here and all cards are on the table.
- Develop a Financial Sector: The best part of the capitalist system is that it simplifies the process of uniting innovators with investors. This would potentially set the groundwork for an industrial revolution further down the line. Who knows, maybe dragon fire can help with steel production.
- Smarter Government Spending: Elaborate weddings and jousting tournaments don’t contribute to the economy. The Iron Throne should instead focus on improving infrastructure such as roads, bridges and better harbors. This would improve the movement of trade across both the continent and the Narrow Sea.
I think after our economic analysis, it is fair to say that the reason the Wall is manned by men carrying swords instead of black powder rifles is because of the unique environmental conditions of Westeros. This has the unfortunate consequence of restricting economic development since after every winter the citizens of The Seven Kingdoms must begin preparations for the next winter. However, I think we also found some solutions that could at least point Westeros in the right direction if we look at the long term timeline… assuming anyone survives The Long Night.