Vladimir Putin is currently vying for the position of one of the most powerful people in the world as he has set his eyes on large swathes (if not all) of Ukraine, rattling the saber of nuclear conflict. He has also brought conventional armed conflict back to the shores of the European continent for the first time since Russia was on the right side of history when they helped the allies crush the Axis powers in World War II, in an attempt to show just how powerful he should be seen on the world stage.
And while this list will of course be replete with powerful people wielding considerable political power and influence, the realm of politics is not the only place that produces people of such immense power. The digital revolution, and the considerable revenue it produces, have seen the balance of power shift slightly, as global power begins to slip through the fingers of Kings, Queens, religious leaders, and politicians, and into the hands of private individuals and entities.
And while politicians still populate a large percentage of the world leaders in 2023, there are a few on this list whose power relies on wealth, influence, and, most importantly, the control of information.
1. Vladimir Putin
Let’s start with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. After studying law at Leningrad State University (now Saint Petersburg State University) in 1970, and graduating in 1975, Putin’s ambitions would shift from law to the shifty world of counterintelligence when he joined the KGB after leaving university.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and after briefly serving as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and secretary of the Security Council, his attention turned to politics. Eventually being appointed as prime minister in August 1999. Only four months later, Boris Yeltsin would resign as president and Putin would take the reigns of power, reigns he appears to never want to let go of.
Putin, and in turn, Russia itself, have seen its influence on the political stage diminish over the course of the 21st century. With the encroachment of NATO bases near the Russian border, and many neighboring countries seeking to join this intergovernmental military alliance between 30 member states, Putin feels cornered. As his increasingly European threatening, warmongering rhetoric continues just as the bombs and bullets continue to fly in Ukraine, few people know exactly how close Putin’s finger is to that big red button, and what, if anything, can be done to stop him.
2. Joe Biden
Like many presidents before him, our current commander-in-chief, Joe Biden, is among the most powerful people in the world as America has wielded the most power and influence on the world stage in the last century. However, it can also be argued that after Donald Trump’s single term in the White House, how seriously the other parts of the world takes America has been thrown into doubt.
Although many world leaders welcomed the swearing-in of the senator from Delaware, Trump’s moniker of ‘sleepy Joe’ have seen many ask if he is really up to the job. The American public largely agrees that perhaps he is not, as his approval rating sits at about 50% at the moment.
Biden has tried to stamp his authority early on by signing 17 executive orders in just his first two days in office, most relating to overturning his predecessor’s policies on foreign relations, immigration, and climate change. With the year-long war between Russia and Ukraine and Putin possibly having his eyes on more swathes of Europe, the next few months will show exactly what Biden is made of and just how powerful and influential America is in the 21st century.
3. Xi Jinping
America and Russia are definitely two very powerful countries, but a third party has slowly been edging its way onto the world stage, China, and its leader Xi Jinping. Viewed with trepidation and suspicion by the Western world, Xi Jinping certainly sees himself as one of the crucial political figures in the world.
He is without question the most powerful man in China as he has consolidated his power by abolishing presidential term limits in 2018 by passing a set of constitutional amendments. Essentially making him president for life. With the war still raging between Russia and Ukraine, China is making moves in the background.
With their expanding influence on South Africa and Europe and a military budget ($229.4 billion) second only to the United States, China, and Xi Jinping will play an even bigger part on the world stage in the coming years.
4. Elon Musk
When it comes to wielding power on the world stage, it’s not just politicians and religious leaders who hold the reigns. Like the oil barons of the early 20th century, the titans of the tech industry hold an increasingly tighter grip on the world we live in today. One of these people is South African-born Elon Musk.
Growing up in Pretoria before moving to America to study at the University of Pennsylvania, Musk went from creating a software startup called Zip2 (which he sold for $307 million in 1999) to becoming one of the richest people with an estimated fortune of $219 billion.
While you might not think running the electric vehicle maker Tesla and founding SpaceX in 2002 would have much influence on the world stage, his recent moves to acquire social media giant Twitter for $44 billion means that he will have a greater influence on people’s everyday lives.
5. Pope Francis
It can be argued that the world is moving towards a more secular state of mind, but that doesn’t diminish the power and influence of the catholic church. The Vatican released statistics in 2020 stating that the number of Catholics worldwide increased by an estimated 16 million, taking the faithful to 1.36 billion.
After Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, the first pope to relinquish the office since Gregory XII was forced to resign in 1415, the position of head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State passed to the former bouncer and janitor, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, better known as Pope Francis.
This hugely popular pontiff from Buenos Aires, Argentina, might have the persona of a kindly old gentleman, and we are not suggesting otherwise. But the fact that he is the voice and spiritual leader of 16% of the world’s total population (and 50% of all Christians) is not something to be taken lightly.
We recommend you this book if you’re interested in reading more about Pope Francis.
6. Jeff Bezos
You might think that a guy who owns a company that sells ‘stuff’ online can’t be that powerful, but you would be very wrong as his company has become essential to the everyday lives of millions of people. His tendrils extend far beyond Amazon as in the last few years his purchase of the Washington Post has seen him become a powerful international force in journalism.
He has also heavily invested in biotechnology and neuroscience, particularly focusing on reversing the aging process, so his influence on science and technology will be felt for years to come. His continued investment in many e-commerce products and services, including cloud computing, video/audio streaming, and AI will be a part of our everyday lives.
7. Bill Gates
As a major entrepreneur of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, Bill Gates’ impact on the world is apparent every time you turn on your computer or smartphone. Coding his first computer software program at the young age of 13, Gates would make his fortune by co-founding Microsoft Corporation, the world’s largest personal computer software company. However, his interests extend far beyond computers as he now runs the world’s largest private charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
His shift into philanthropy has seen him become the Internet’s favorite bogeyman, with conspiracy theorists insisting he’s trying to microchip the world, and his involvement in the vaccination programs to combat COVID-19 has only seen those accusations grow. In reality, given sizable amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs, helping among other things, to eradicate wild poliovirus in Africa.
His foundation continues to support global health initiatives like improving global sanitation and working to eradicate other deadly diseases such as malaria and AIDS.
8. Rupert Murdoch
When it comes to what we see, read, and hear in our day-to-day lives, few people can match the influence of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. There are countless newspapers, TV channels, and news sites all over the world but sadly, they are all owned by a handful of extremely powerful individuals and Murdoch has a huge slice of the pie.
The Australian-born media mogul began his true rise to power when he took over the United Kingdom’s News of the World in 1969, followed closely by The Sun, and used them to destroy the public perception of the elite class in the UK. He then set his sights on America, eventually becoming what many would describe as a ‘King maker’ as his influence on the Australian, UK and US political scene is undeniable.
He may be over 90 and in the twilight of his years, but his ownership of Fox Entertainment Group, The Times, and HarperCollins means that even once he has left this world, his impact on the world stage will remain.
9. Jerome Powell
The last name on our list is one many people have not heard of, but the power he wields is second to none. Why? Because Jerome Powell is the chairman of the Federal Reserve. The position of chairman has long been considered among the most powerful positions in the entire world as any decisions they make can have a profound economic effect on not just the American economy but every developed and developing country across the globe.
With inflation running at its highest level in 40 years, the decisions Powell makes, the most recent being raising interest rates for the first time in the last few years, will have a lasting impact on the world economy. Added to that, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on supply chains and increasing inflation pressures, Powell will play a huge role in the next few years.
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