“We all live in its shadow and almost none of us know it,” declared Tywin Lannister. He was speaking about the Iron Bank of Braavos, the largest independent bank in George R.R. Martin’s fictional world, and maybe the most powerful behind-the-scenes player in Game of Thrones. “You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses.” The Iron Bank will have its due, and it has a mercenary force of debt collectors to hold clients accountable. The bank seems a fitting nemesis given the new irony of the Lannister house slogan: “A Lannister always pays his debts.”
In these days of post-war, anemic financial recovery, power attracts death as honey attracts flies. First there was Robert Baratheon, then Ned Stark, Robb Stark, and now Joffrey Lannister. Thus Lord Baelish’s subtle power grabbing seems prudent. He thinks he has the strategic pawn to rule in the North—Sansa Stark—whom he believes is the last remaining Stark and thus the natural heir to the Northern throne.
The central government of Westeros is insolvent, not unlike a certain central government of the United States and its Federal Reserve, a central bank in all but name. But the insolvency of the Fed is irrelevant to the imaginary geopolitics of a R.R. Martin’s fictional “reality.” Or is it?
We have a ruling class whose only source of income is tax revenue through coercion. The Lannisters may not be $17.5 trillion in debt, but they do “owe the Iron Bank of Braavos a tremendous amount of money” after financing the wars, weddings, and wine-infused debauchery under Robert Baratheon.
Is there a way out? In the late 1700s, King George III ran out of money and offered Parliament an exchange of revenue from the lands he owned for the forgiveness of his debts from the Seven Years’ War. Perhaps a similar deal can be struck. But the question remains—do the Lannisters have something the Iron Bank of Braavos wants that they can’t get elsewhere? The profits from Castle Rock? Tyrrell family money? How about offering bank officials the position of master of coin and a spot on the king’s council? Either way, the political legitimacy of the Lannisters is lost.
However, if the Iron Bank has political aims, they are more likely to pursue them by means of forced regime change as they have in the past. We know that Davos is contacting the Iron Bank on behalf of Stannis Baratheon, who has a claim to the Iron Throne. The bank is kingmaker.
According to F.H. Buckley, President Obama is king of an all-powerful executive branch with expanded spending powers. Because of the ban on specific earmarks, congressional appropriations allow the president to determine where much of our tax money goes, including to unions and green energy companies during the TARP bailout. When large banks fail, the government bails them out, but who will bail out the U.S. government? Will it be China—a foreign power comparable to Daenerys and her dragons, which are intrinsically valued at priceless? Or will it be the International Monetary Fund—an independent international organization like the Iron Bank of Braavos, and the only entity left with a clean balance sheet? Either way, the financial power of the U.S. government is on a path to decline.
That decline will lead to systemic aftershocks. More than 60 percent of the world’s foreign exchange reserves are held in U.S. dollars and 80 percent of global foreign exchange trading is in dollars. A collapse of the central bank, just like the fall of the Iron Throne, would result in a global power vacuum.