The world’s most powerful people

By Ian Bremmer
January 2, 2013

A few days ago, I took a quick, informal survey around Eurasia Group, the political risk outfit I lead, on power and global politics. The question: Who are the world’s most powerful people? We defined power as a measure of an individual’s ability to singlehandedly bring about change that significantly affects the lives and fortunes of large numbers of people.

Here’s what we came up with, in descending order:

1- Nobody – In a G-Zero world, everyone is waiting for someone else to shoulder responsibility for the world’s toughest and most dangerous challenges. The leaders you’ll see named further down this list are preoccupied with local and regional problems and don’t have the interest and leverage needed to take on a growing list of transnational problems.

2- Vladimir Putin – In Russia’s personalized system, Putin is still the person who counts. He isn’t as popular as he used to be, and his country has no Soviet-scale clout or influence, but no one on the planet has consolidated more domestic and regional power than Putin.

3- Ben Bernanke – The world’s largest economy is still struggling to find its footing. To help, no one has more levers to pull and buttons to push than the chairman of the Federal Reserve. The world needs the U.S. economy back on its feet, and Bernanke has more direct influence than anyone else on when and how that happens.

4- Angela Merkel – For the moment, the German Chancellor’s commitments are the glue that binds Europe. Merkel’s ability to bankroll Europe’s emergency funds, win concessions from the governments of cash-strapped peripherals, and maintain solid popularity at home continues to be a remarkable political and policy achievement.

5- Barack Obama – Even at a time when Washington is focused almost entirely on Washington, the elected leader of the world’s most powerful and influential country carries a lot of water. The Obama administration will watch the eurozone from the sidelines and keep commitments in the Middle East to a minimum, but the United States will continue to broaden and deepen security and commercial relationships in East Asia, and Obama’s decisions on how far and how fast to move will be crucial.

6- Mario Draghi – Europe’s chief banker, and its backstop. Europe’s Central Bank has kept the continent’s blood flowing at a crucial moment in its history, and his work is far from done.

7- Xi Jinping – China’s progress is the world’s most important variable, and the incoming president of China is now the man behind the wheel. Over the next decade, economic and political reforms will be needed to keep China moving forward, and Xi will make some difficult (and profoundly important) decisions.

8 (tie)- Ayatollah Khamenei – The supreme spiritual and political authority in Iran, a country at the heart of a volatile region. Halfway through 2013, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be succeeded, but it is still Khamenei who will decide how the international fight over Iran’s nuclear program plays out and what the future holds for the Islamic Republic.

8 (tie)- Christine Lagarde – The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and the world’s fire marshal. Here is that rare leader whose contribution will be crucial in multiple regions at once. But nowhere will the IMF’s work be more important than in keeping Europe on track.

10- King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz – King of Saudi Arabia, a kingdom with a unique power to move markets. The Saudi monarch is not in the best of health, but the choices he makes in determining who will lead the world’s hydrocarbon powerhouse into the next generation will help shape the entire global economy for many years to come.

Editor’s note: This column was also published on ForeignPolicy.com.

PHOTO: REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst | REUTERS/Wang Zhao/Pool

3 comments

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The problem with the world is that the liars, the selfish and the ignorant have become too powerful both politically and financially. And anybody intelligent enough can see through it.

“as you well know appearances can be deceiving”
It will be shocking to people when they realize who are the real wishful, theologian, pseudo-scientists, pseudo-intellects.

These people will lure us into a destructive vision of the world that they want. They destroy humanity while at the same time appearing as if they are the benevolent saviors. They tell us that the time of rest has come but everything around us is not going to rest, from the sun, the stars to the various organisms right here. Certain level of certain thing will be useful. Maybe some of us can go to rest while others remain vigilant, but all of us cannot rest. If all of us go to rest, will we ever wake up?

Yet we cannot fall into savagery, we still have to behave ourselves and tolerate them. Maybe there are situations where they are right and are needed that we don’t know. But at least we know that we don’t know everything, we try to be better, and we don’t claim to be the blasphemous ultimate.

In all cases, we must not lose hopes, keep hopes alive! Both the old hopes that are coming back so we don’t fall as well as the new hopes that will lift us.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbnTZREME JI

PS: not the heart though, the mind :P

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

None of them compare in power to Justin Bieber, who has power over roughly half the World’s population.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

It may well be that Vladimir Putin is the single most power person, as you define it, in the world. But it very clear that much more power flows through Barack Obama. The much more interesting question is where does Obama’s—and other leaders such as Merkel’s, maybe even Putin’s, Xi’s, and the others’— power come from?

Stopping one’s thinking at the top politicians just provides cover for the deeper, undemocratic forces in the world.

A key question could be what are the most powerful institutions in the world, those that control the politicians? An obvious, and easily identifiable institution in this class is AIPAC: the kowtowing, back-sliding, and counter-productive decisions of Obama and indeed of the whole US Congress due to AIPAC and its affiliates are repeatedly on display for all to see. Ninety-plus percent of Congress supports whatever ridiculous, un-American proclamation the Zionist supporters come up with, even when it goes against what some of the same people said weeks before, and is a ruinous expense to the the American public

Another even bigger force than AIPAC: the banksters. Maybe they even manipulate AIPAC-types (and other quasi-religious groups) for their purposes. They force the government to hand over trillions of dollars of public money to save them, after they have skimmed another trillion off the off the same public, and put the money in their pockets. So, who is Bernanke really answering too?

Or, is the dominant world force the corporations? Which ones, what are their aims, do they have any morals beyond what is forced on them, how effective are the regulations?

Then there is the expenditure of 2.6 trillion dollars per year on health care in the US, twice what it costs the rest of the advanced world for superior coverage. Who are our politicians, and the media, answering to for this abomination? If we covered health care like the other advanced nations, we would virtually eliminate our US fiscal debt in one shot.

In my opinion, a true, public investigation and accounting of who, or what, actually runs the world, and how it works, would be a very brave undertaking. We obviously have assassination organizations loose in the world. And there are other means to destroy people’s political lives (Elliot Spitzer, General Petraeus, John Edward, Gary Hart, etc. All phones and email are bugged.). If the answer were actually that #1-Nobody is the correct , it would still be useful to know to what extent it isn’t some of the usual suspects.

As the world wantonly careens towards a date with reality—that is, unsustainable growth in a world of finite resources— the human population really needs to get a grip on who, and/or what, is driving them. Only in this way will we have a chance to get on a sustainable path.

Thank you Mr. Bremmer for taking a step on this investigative road, but if you can, please don’t stop here.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive