The world’s most powerful people
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