Faith is waning in Daenerys Targaryen’s ability to conquer and then justly rule Westeros.
The Mother of Dragons is down to only one firedrake, after a barrage of oversized crossbow bolts from an enemy ship killed her dragon Rhaegal. As the playwright Oscar Wilde might say, to lose one dragon may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two — as Dany has — looks like carelessness.
She is short on troops. Short on strategies. Short on friends. And her claim to the Iron Throne has weakened upon learning that the bastard Jon Snow, in fact, shares her royal Targaryen blood.
Dany is suffering what can be called a crisis of confidence. Such crises are common in the modern global economy and can ultimately affect the fate of corporate chief executives and world leaders. A falling share price can encourage activist investors to seek the firing of a once-popular CEO. A drop in consumer confidence can lead to less consumer spending and disrupt a presidency, while a surge in confidence can propel stronger growth and help incumbents.
In the AP’s weekly “Wealth of Westeros ” series, we’re delving into the latest plot twists and analyzing the economic and business forces driving the last season of “Game of Thrones.” This week, we thought the emerging challenge of Jon Snow to Dany’s previously solid claim to the Iron Throne highlighted the importance of confidence in leaders and economies.
Daenerys has been down and out before. But this crisis is occurring at a moment that was supposed to be triumphant, when she would force the ruthless Cersei Lannister to surrender her crown and the capital of King’s Landing. But Cersei is defiant. And fewer of Dany’s own followers believe in her.
It’s particularly interesting since it follows what was ultimately a victory for the Dany-led forces of the living over the Night King and the undead.
What often matters more is how confidence responds to a setback. Researchers at the New York Federal Reserve found in a 2013 analysis that confidence measures held up after a series of financial crises, including the 1987 stock market crash, the 1994 bond market rout, the 1997 Asian crisis and the 1998 Asian debt crisis. This likely helped contain the damage from these events and possibly stop the kinds of fears that would lead to a recession.
Yet those outcomes may have led to overconfidence among policymakers. Alan Greenspan writes in his 2007 autobiography that the ability of the U.S. economy to bounce back from those financial crises showed how resilient it was.
The Great Recession began just months later in December 2007. Consumer confidence, as measured by the business research group the Conference Board, plummeted 75% by February 2009. It took almost six years for it to recover to pre-recession levels. Spending, not surprisingly, remained historically weak during that time.
Until recently, confidence could also foreshadow the outcome of elections. It almost certainly helped presidential candidates unseat incumbents in 1980 and 1992, according to a 2008 commentary by Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan consumer sentiment surveys. He correctly predicted that falling consumer confidence would help Barack Obama to the presidency.
However, in the hyper partisanship that emerged in the past decade, feelings about the economy are increasingly correlated to one’s political identity rather than actual economic performance.
On Sunday’s “Game of Thrones,” Tyrion, the quick-witted imp who serves as Dany’s chief adviser, crystallizes the elusive nature of confidence: “Power resides where men believe it resides.”
That can make life difficult for politicians and CEOs when those perceptions shift. British Prime Minister Theresa May called an unexpected election in April 2017 in an effort to bolster her support as she negotiated the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. Her party lost seats instead, weakening her hand. A year and a half later she was barely fending off “no confidence” votes.
Chief executives can experience even swifter falls from grace. Carlos Ghosn, the former CEO and Chairman of Nissan, was once a celebrated, larger-than-life figure in Japan, credited with rescuing both Nissan and Renault from near bankruptcy.
But several of his underlings turned against him, and Ghosn alleges they orchestrated a conspiracy. He has been arrested twice in Japan and removed from all his executive posts, after being charged with under-reporting his post-retirement compensation. Ghosn denies the charges.
Will Dany ultimately fall out of favor? Her top advisers are already grappling with the fact that there is a legitimate alternative in Jon Snow. Varys, a crafty supporter who advises her alongside Tyrion, is leaning toward Snow because of his popularity among different groups of people. The confidence of the people can give a ruler legitimacy.
“You know where my loyalty stands,” Varys told Tyrion. “You know I will never betray the realm.”
“What is the realm?” Tyrion responds. “A vast continent home to millions of people, most of whom don’t care who sits on the Iron Throne.”
Varys responds bluntly, “Millions of people, many of whom will die if the wrong person sits on that throne. We don’t know their names, but they’re just as real as you and I.”