Third on the list is the US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came in fourth, followed by US President Barack Obama.
The ranking triggered heated discussion both online and offline. The Foreign Policy magazine shortly announced that the list hadn’t been compiled by Foreign Policy but by one of itsbloggers, and “the item did not appear in the print magazine”.
The head of the Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer in an interview with the Voice of Russia said that the list was a collective work by 150 analysts from his company who made their own lists of top powerful people, so the final version hardly represents his personal opinion only.
Bremmer told the VoR that his definition of the power is a “measure of an individual’s ability to singlehandedly bring about change that significantly affects the lives and fortunes of large numbers of people so he want’s surprise that Putin was ranked second”.
Download audio file
Putin is followed by the Fed head Ben Bernanke. Analysts believe that Bernanke’s QE infinity did a great deal to help Obama reelect. However, though the Obama leads the world’s superpower his global influence is not that great, Mr. Bremer believes.
Download audio file
Number one spot has remained empty and Bremmer explained the choice to the Voice of Russia:
Eurasia Group is an authoritative political consultancy with branches in NY, Washington DC, London and Tokyo. Its head, Ian Bremmer is a prominent and widely-quoted analyst and FP blogger.
In a post in "Foreign Policy" magazine, the Eurasia Group named Russian President Vladimir Putin No. 2 for most powerful people in the world while leaving the No. 1 stop virtually empty while global leaders wait for someone to take on "the world's toughest and most dangerous challenges." Interview with Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group.
About 150 analysts of the political science consultancy Eurasia Group were asked to rank the world’s leaders based on the following definition of power: "a measure of an individual’s ability to single-handedly bring about change that significantly affects the lives and fortunes of large amounts of people."
The group then took the aggregate average of the surveys and produced a list that left the No. 1 spot empty followed by Putin. Then U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama rounded out the top five.
Andrew Hiller discussed the rankings with Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group.
So, when Foreign Policy magazine came to you and asked you to come up with the rankings of the most powerful and influential in the world. How did you go about coming up with your list?
Well, we’re the world’s largest political risk consultancy. I put together a little note to all of our analysts sent to our offices, some about 150 folks, gave them a quick definition of power and said, you know, sort of come up with your rankings, who you believe the top ten most powerful folks are. And then we’ll collate them and have a list, you know. There were a few folks and a couple of ties, a couple of people that could have almost made to the list, but didn’t quite generally speaking what you see is what you get.
So, your rankings are actually an aggregate average based on your office and operationally speaking what is your definition of power?
There are many, but I think there is a pretty standard one in political science: the power is a measure of an individual’s ability to singlehandedly bring about change that significantly affects the lives and fortunes of large numbers of people.
So, your definition doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the power within a country or the power of influencing externally?
It’s both together.
Was it a surprise to you that Putin ranked number two?
No, not at all. I mean, you think about it, the checks and balances on Putin as an individual in Russia are de minimis compared to any country remotely Russia’s size. I mean, there clearly are tiny dictatorships out there where individuals truly have absolute power, you think about a sort of place like Turkmenistan, for example, may be even North Korea though it’s hard to say with Kim Jong Un, certainly it was the case with Kim Jong Il. Russia is a real country, Russia is a country in size, a real economy, it’s an energy superpower. They’ve got a real military and yet you know it’s controlled to an enormous degree by one guy? There’s lots of downside there –what happens if he dies and there is a lot of downside in terms of you know, sort of what about rule of law, what about governance? But if you want to talk about power, you want to really look around the world to see who is the most powerful person -one person out there. It’s really obvious, it’s Putin.
So your study really had no sort of qualitative look at power for good, or for evil or for neutral. It really was just looking at just raw power and who’s got the most ability to affect change?
You know, if you’ve seen the Time Person of the Year, I don’t exactly like their methodology but historically they’ve had a lot of folks that have not exactly been sort of paragons of humanity. When you talk about people who are powerful, in the US a lot would look at banking CEOs being very powerful, but there’re not a lot of folks in America who are thinking they’re sort of the models of virtue and beneficence in the US right now. This point is made much more sharply with Putin but again I’m a political scientist, we’re in a political science company. If you are asking, who is the greatest humanitarian in the world - Bill Gates might have been up there or Dalai Lama – you won’t be getting Putin. I think, it’s pretty clear. But if you are talking about power, give the man his due, I mean he doesn’t just do judo –he actually jiu jitsus the whole country.
Right below Putin, and I have to admit, this surprised me, ahead of the President of the US, was Ben Bernanke, who is the Chairman of the Fed, why? Is he more powerful than Obama?
This is an interesting point. Merkel is also listed as more powerful than Obama, and again you look at Time’s Person of the Year, I personally would have thought Merkel would have given the year, she’s had an importance on Europe. If you are giving it to one person, you would give it to Merkel before Obama.
Obama is not the President of the world’s only superpower, he is. It’s that Washington’s politics have become so divisive, they’ve become so volatile, that the ability of Obama to project and use that power is much more constrained than, I think, a lot of presidents have been historically.
Who does have truly a lot more capacity to affect that internationally, but the US has never desired to be the world’s policeman today. We’re actually reducing. We’ve left Iraq, we are reducing our footprint in Afghanistan and much more power has been projected with cash these days than it has been projected just with missiles, or drones or aircraft carriers.
On that front, it’s the question of policy-making and the ability to actually move the needle, that’s where Eurasia Group came out and said that actually you put Bernanke and Merkel before Obama.
Maybe that could change over the next two years. 2013 having just won the presidency, Obama should have a lot of political capital but having the last few weeks in Washington with the fiscal cliff certainly don’t move you in that direction.
Is it also a statement that Bernanke doesn’t seem to have the checks and balances that other agencies amongst the government does and seems to be fairly autonomous in his ability to move?
That’s right and someone like Draghi would be ECB because that situation has become so politicized given the crisis the eurozone is under. The ECB has expanded its power but still much more working with and in concert with major European leaders where Bernanke’s ability to act pretty independently, pretty autonomously with the relatively small group of technocrats who are pretty deep politicized. I mean a lot of people would say that Bernanke’s QE infinity did a great deal to help Obama actually win reelection. Bernanke is a Democrat, but he had a lot of influence as an independent technocratic actor in the US government, so I think that the ranking of number three actually shows that. But Bernanke is no Putin, let’s be clear.
And I want to go back to Merkel also for a second, because I remember talking at the beginning of the year, before there was a fiscal cliff there was an austerity cliff with Greece, with Italy,with France and the fear that all these countries were about to domino over. Merkel more or less was able to sort of strong-arm these countries and the Central Bank into coming up with a plan that she thought would make the world work. Is her ranking fair in your view?
She did not only that but she also did it with power ratings of nearly 70%. In fact, there was a poll recently asking Germans if they would support an additional bailout for the Greeks, 47% percent of Germans reported yes, 42% said no. The Greeks – this is Merkel’s doing, she’s done a fantastic job, she’s been able not just to ensure the continued sanctity of the eurozone, she’s taken Greek set off the table, she’s been able to move towards a common European banking union, make preliminary steps towards a fiscal union but she’s also done it with the support of her own population. Incumbencies are doing badly in the post-financial crisis world. Merkel is a serious exception to that.
And power for power sake is relatively meaningless. What do you think this power can be exercised for, what will this enable Putin, Bernanke or Merkel to do?
There’s the reason why the number one is nobody. And it’s very clear that the US is the world’s only superpower but if you do not actually use that power, especially on the global stage. I mean let’s face it-the Europeans just gone through the worst financial crisis we’ve seen since the Depression. There was a lot of ask for help, there was no one, I mean, Obama or Romney it didn’t matter-no one was going to support the Marshall Plan or anything remotely like that for Europeans.
When Sarkozy went to China and met with Hu Jintao, Hu Jintao said that’s nice that you’re here but we are not going to write any checks. You know, we’re in my view, what we call a G0 world, not a G7 or G20, but a G0 – place that has an absence of global leadership and putting nobody as number one I think really does reflect the fact that there is a vacuum of power. It’s also nice to say that there is nobody more powerful than Vladimir Putin.
You do have to wonder we’re coming towards the period where there are economic issues they’re certainly worldwide, there’re environmental issues, there’re energy need issues which are going to need a worldwide solution given the ingrowing industrialization and the growing population that’s going around the world. Is there a player out there who can create unity or make sure that what needs to happen at least is pushed along a useful track?
There isn’t at the global level. I mean before the financial crisis the US was really leading all of these world institutions, you certainly saw that on trade, you think about the IMF, you think about the World Bank, the UN. I mean these are all institutions created by the US with their allies, their priorities, their capital. The US is no longer leading global institutions, but this doesn’t mean there’s no leading going on. It’s just that leading hasn’t been done globally. And you will see in 2013 the US working hard to push through, for example a very big trade deal the Transpacific Partnership. If it happens, it will involve forty percent of the world’s GDP, that’s not 100 or 80 percent - that’s 40. But it’s effectively the Coalition of the Willing on the economic side.
That’s not an ideal outcome but in a G0 world we will see many of these global challenges, we increasingly will need to ensure that the “Great” is not the enemy of the “Good”. We’re going to be accepting, you know, sort of good enough in many cases because the Great,the optimal is not coming.
Read more on