By Alex Coonce
They dominate the Westerosi economy. Their unofficial motto is “a Lannister always pays his debts”. Just the name Lannister is synonymous with wealth. But how wealthy are the Lannisters, really? After taking in the state of the economy and the assets of other houses, are they truly as rich as everyone claims?
For those unfamiliar with the series Game of Thrones, House Lannister is one of the nine “great houses” of Westeros, a continent primarily occupied by the realm known as the Seven Kingdoms. Due to unregulated spending, a stagnant economy, and now a civil war, the crown has taken to borrowing money in order to keep up with its overindulgence while the rest of the realm starves. Much of this money is borrowed from Tywin Lannister, the Lannister patriarch and owner of the majority of the realm’s gold mines. The Lannisters are shrewd and ruthless, and with Tywin’s (universally detested) grandson, Joffrey, on the throne, they have essentially rigged the system in their favour.
Knowing this, one would assume the Lannisters are, without a doubt, the richest house in Westeros. However, this is before taking into account the food shortage and devalued status of Westerosi currency. In a recent Slate article, Matthew Yglesias argues that the Lannisters aren’t all that wealthy in comparison to their on-and-off allies, the Tyrells. “The illusion of Lannister wealth,” Yglesias claims, “is based on the idea that we can take the marginal price of an ounce of gold, and then multiply that by the total quantity of the Lannister gold supply, and then conclude that the Lannisters are hyper-wealthy.” This, he argues, ignores the problem of inflation, especially when considering the devalued status of Westerosi gold.
House Tyrell, on the other hand, has more public support than the Lannisters by far, owns the largest army in Westeros, and provides the realm with the majority of its crops. The Tyrells have the means and the opportunities to earn long-run profits. In the event of a food shortage in the Westerlands (the region of the Seven Kingdoms owned by the Lannisters) and a gold shortage in the Reach (the Tyrells’ region), the Tyrells will be able to rely on their resources to get them by until they can find a way to sell them for profit. The Lannisters, on the other hand, will “find that if they try to trade a whole big pile of gold for a whole big pile of food that the price of food will skyrocket”. Gold itself, while a handy medium of exchange, is worth nothing in comparison to resources.
In addition, Westeros is already facing hyperinflation due to a civil war and a disorganized economic system. To compensate, the crown resorts to placing heavy taxes on refugees seeking asylum from war, debasing its currency, and taking out large loans from foreign banks (the Seven Kingdoms don’t have their own centralized bank). Naturally, this does nothing to help the stagnant economy. Furthermore, because of the Seven Kingdoms’ reliance on a feudal system-- thus limiting any sort of social mobility-- the average citizen is unable to pay the crown’s increasingly heavy taxes or to provide the growth the economy so desperately needs. All in all, this creates a large dent in the Lannisters’ supposed wealth.
So, are the Lannisters really all that wealthy? Well, yes, when compared the impoverished majority of the realm-- but when compared to the fellow Great Houses, the Lannisters don’t quite live up to their reputation.