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Is Putin Really the Most Powerful Man in the World?

Forbes says yes; but they also say a retired software maker is ahead of the British Prime Minister

Originally appeared at The Unz Review

A natural question would be – how on Earth do you actually quantify such things? Forbes relies on an index consisting of a political/demographic component (control over people), a financial component (wealth), prominence in various spheres (e.g. automative, space, financial, etc.), and whether they actually used their power.

Even so, is it really plausible for Merkel to be ahead of Obama? For semi-retired Bill Gates to be ahead of virtually all other national leaders? For the Pope to be ahead of Xi Jinping? (Stalin’s jibes about how many divisions the Pope has regardless, I really don’t see how the leader of an emerging superpower could be less powerful than a media celebrity priest).

Perhaps a slightly more interesting and legitimate way of calculating individual power would be to calculate what share any one person has over the “power” of his country or countries. (The reason for this is that, like it or not – and rhetoric about globalization to the contrary – the nation-state remains far and away the most dominant actor on the international stage. Even if you think that lobbying groups, corporations or even the Illuminati rule the roost, nation-states are still the vectors by which they exercise their influence).

According to my estimates of comprehensive national power (CNP) for 2015, the leading country is the US, set to 100, followed by China (52), Russia (28), UK/France (both 20), India (18), Japan (17), and Germany (15).

Does this mean that Obama and Xi Jinping are more powerful than Putin? Not necessarily.

Putin, arguably, has far more relative power over Russia than either of them. In particular, both Obama and Xi Jinping are subject to a two term limit (even if they are enforced very differently). Putin’s two term limit is a mere formality. Although Putin has to satisfy some key interest groups, and as a fairly intelligent person consults widely with experts and opinion polls, he still has an astounding degree of leeway over Russian policy. In contrast, the position of the General Secretary in the Chinese Politburo has been characterized as merely “first amongst equals.” Any US President needs to contend for power with the other branches of government, first and foremost, the legislature. This makes him even less relatively powerful.

So if we posit that, say, Putin “controls” 75% of power in Russia, versus 40% for Xi Jinping and 20% for Obama – this is just about plausible, I think – then the Forbes ranking would be confirmed. But it is impossible to imagine how Merkel could conceivably take second place. That is just the recent media furore making itself felt on Forbes’ pages.

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