The Game of Thrones Must Be Stopped

Matthew McCaffrey,

Release Date
March 25, 2014


Role of Government

Why is Game of Thrones so violent? Economist and GoT superfan Matt McCaffrey contends that bloodshed and corruption are to be expected in a society like Westeros, which can also teach us about the use of power in our own world. Using insights from economics and political science, he argues that the only way to win the game of thrones is not to play.

Game of Thrones as Theory (article): The journal Foreign Affairs examines the imperialism and politics in Game of Thrones
The Game of Thrones Is A Game of Coins (article): Matt McCaffrey looks at the economics behind the popular show
The Economic Sense in Game of Thrones (article): An interesting look at the banks and finance in Westeros
Right Conquers Might (article): What is right, wrong, and peaceful in the world of George RR Martin?
Game of Thrones’ Economics (video interview): Matt McCaffrey talks with Reason TV about the ever popular show
Power is a Shadow that Kills (blog post): Matt Zwolinski talks people power, kings, and Game of Thrones

The Game of Thrones Must Be Stopped
Daenerys Targaryen: “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Matt McCaffrey: I want to teach students to question the nature of power, to ask where it comes from, and how it changes us. What makes Game of Thrones so brilliant is that as it depicts these bloody conflicts between rulers and would be rulers, it hints that maybe none of them deserves to rule. In fact, maybe ruling is the whole problem. We don’t need dragons and White Walkers to explain why Westeros is such a mess. It’s simpler than that. The rulers of Westeros create chaos and destruction because everyone agrees there should be rulers of Westeros. The very existence of the Iron Throne encourages people to kill for it, even die for it, to capture it at all costs. But securing the throne also means manipulating other people to do the killing and dying for you. The source of all power is concentrated in a giant chair that’s open for the taking, and that makes it a target for anyone with a small pile of gold and a few swords. It’s a recipe for never ending conflict and misery, especially for the common people.
Jorah Mormont: “The common people pray for rain, health, and a summer that never ends. They don’t care what games the high lords play.”
McCaffrey: When the rulers fight, it’s their subjects who suffer most. So how do we stop the bloodshed? In history, how did some societies go from times as violent and unstable as the imaginary Westeros, to a period of relative peace, stability, and prosperity?
Lord Varys: “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.”
McCaffrey: Even in Westeros, power resides where people believe it resides. When ordinary people start questioning arbitrary authority, the thrones in which the rulers sit are weakened. In our world, if we want to challenge power, we have to change our fundamental beliefs about it. What if our government had little power to begin with? What if political power didn’t command such authority or offer so many rewards? Then there would be no game of thrones because the throne wouldn’t be a prize worth taking. The key is to build from the bottom up, not from the top down. In history, authoritarian regimes were undermined when people removed their consent. They promoted their own ideas about the society they wanted to flourish. Westeros will never see peace, until the Iron Throne becomes little more than an uncomfortable chair. As for our world, we have learned that the only way to win the game of thrones is not to play. There is so much more to say about the Game of Thrones. Come join me for a free online seminar at Learn Liberty Academy. We’ll talk about money, power, and corruption. And you’ll have a chance to weigh in too. Click here to register. I hope to see you all there.