Who is the most powerful person in the world?

Put in GD rather than GQ because there’s not likely to be a straightforward answer. Which individual on the planet Earth has the highest overall influence, clout, power: the ability to have things his* way?

Back in the 1950s probably the most powerful single human alive was Josef Stalin: absolute dictator of a nuclear-armed totalitarian superpower. Every other dictator since looks like a pathetic El Supremo by comparison. For example Kim Jong-Il is very powerful in one small and ruinously poor nation, so his overall power on a global scale is significant but not tremendous.

It’s fashionable to refer to the President of the United States as the most powerful person in the world because of his role as leader of the preeminent nation on Earth. But while the POTUS has enormous responsibility, he is where he is only because a large number of influential people have supported his being there, and he is far from free to just do whatever he wants.

Lots of people are very rich, but in democracies even multi-billionaire status only goes so far. I doubt even Bill Gates could buy the right to kill people with impunity.

Some of the Arabian monarchs combine great wealth with great local power and geopolitical importance. Not too many people keep the king of Saudi Arabia waiting on hold. But is even their power largely derivative from the wealth and power of the West?

Who else then? Certain behind-the-scenes movers and shakers who shun the limelight but have the power to make or break administrations? Key players in the global economy? Who is pretty much acknowleged by those in the know as the king of the hill?

*presumably a male because women still face bigger disadvantages

You aren’t going to like this answer (since you already discounted it in your OP), but IMHO GW Bush is the most powerful man on the planet…for the next few years at least. I think a good case can be made that the US President, whoever he or she is, IS the most powerful person on earth. And have been, at least since the end of the cold war.

Who has more raw power at his or her command than the US president? I guess it would depend on how you define ‘powerful’.


I agree, there in no other person in the world who can say “invade this substantial country” and actually do it whether anyone else in the world or in his country or in the country being invaded likes it or not. This is not what happened in Iraq or Afganistan, IMHO FTR, so shaddup.

Quite possibly some nuclear sub commander or missle technician.

Yeah, the president can order destruction the likes of which the world has ever seen. But these guys are the ones who would actually do it.

A political leader’s power only extends as far as the people actually holding the weapons feel like obeying him.

Yup, it’s Dubya. And it ain’t because of his rule over 300 million of us Americans–we’re less than five percent of the planet. And because of our independent Congress and our federalist structure, our President actually wields less power over day-to-day life within his own country relative to other democratically elected leaders, to say nothing of dictators.

No, it’s because of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, and those three magical words in the Constitution–“Commander in Chief”. Guns, bombs, and nukes still count for something, and until January 20, 2009, he controls more of them than any of the other 7 billion humans on the planet.

I forget which movie (yeah I know…just a movie) stated that the three most powerful people in the world was the leader of the U.S.S.R, leader of the U.S. and the captain of a ballistic missile submarine. Granted that points to cold war realities…Russia may not make the list (I know USSR and Russia are different) but I think the sentiment holds. IIRC a modern ballistic missile submarine can unleash more firepower on its own than all of the firepower added together in the history of mankind till this point.

Crimson Tide. A missile sub represents the greatest concentration of destructive power in a small volume, though the captain cannot casually launch the nukes by himself, as was the premise of the film.

No, that’s not what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, because Congress voted to approve war in those instances. And I don’t think the president, without Congressional approval, could actually order any invasion beyond the scale of Grenada.

Depends on how you define power vs. influence. Presidents and kings obviously have the broadest influence, but actual power to affect important events could be tough to judge until after events play out. What if in the next five years some kind of bird flu strain decimates the human population and changes the world drastically, and future historians discover that at some point in the process, there was a single germ researcher who could have prevented the whole thing by making a different choice? In a sense, that researcher was the most powerful person on Earth at that moment.

I don’t find the question coherent, for the reasons that follow.

Power is largely an illusion. There are clearly people who can make a great deal happen, either locally or globally (as opposed to me, who can’t even get his phone fixed properly). The problem is that the outcome of any action is uncertain, and quite often far-removed from what was hoped for, so that the exercise of power was futile.

A second problem is that, if we’re looking at political players, it is always easier to destroy than to build. It’s particularly difficult (and rare) to build something that is both lasting and serves the common good. Moreover, destruction and creation often go hand in hand, and it’s difficult to decide which had the net gain.

Finally, power often shows itself in the ability to apply leverage on greater powers, even though the actor has very limited power himself. The shitstorm that Bin Laden has caused is an obvious case in point.

I do not think this has ever been tested in court and is an open issue between the Executive and Legislative branch. Technically the President is allowed to order troops wherever he wants and presumably can initiate hostilities on his own.

In general I think people assume the President can only respond to an immediate crisis with force. The presumption being that the military might need to react fast and a trip to Capitol Hill for permission would take too long. Military adventurism where a President initiates hostility that could potentially suck the country into war is another matter.

In general it seems the Executive Branch maintains that the President, as Commander in Chief, has the constitutional right to order US forces as he/she sees fit. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution over a Nixon veto precisely to prevent just that. According to that the President has to report on hostilities initiated within 60 days and Congress can order their withdrawal.

So far Presidents have complied with this but more as a pro-forma thing and not a “because they have to” thing. Congress so far has not ordered withdrawal either. As you can see both sides seem to tip-toe around the issue with neither side willing to force a Supreme Court ruling on it.

Bottom line though is I am pretty sure the President of the US could order the invasion of somewhere without the formal approval of anyone else. One would hope if a President went nuts and told his generals to invade London tomorrow there would be enough of a fuss that it wouldn’t happen but nothing legally seems to prevent him from doing that as near as I can tell.

What about the pope (pope as in the position, not necessarily the current office holder)? While he doesn’t (currently) have the ability to order armies around, he is capable of swaying the thinking of people all over the world.

That was going to be my thinking, as well.

Here’s an interesting thought: supposing the pope reversed the Vatican’s policy on birth control. What would happen in parts of the world with a high birth rate due in part or in full to the fact that the Vatican prohibits birth control? Would we see a sharp decline in populations in those places within a generation or two?

I gotta go with “whoever is the current President of the United States.”

“How many divisions has the pope?”

– Stalin

Which happened in Grenada, and Panama too, IIRC. But a war any bigger/longer than that would require funding, which Congress controls.

At the moment, I’ll cast my vote for Dick Cheney. It’d be Karl Rove, but he’s been a bit too distracted lately.

(While “President of the United States” would make a decent answer in normal times, I seriously doubt that holds true for the current administration)

Sure, but no one person runs Congress, really. With the executive branch, the President is running the show. It’s kind of like one guy is the equal of the other two branches all by hisself.

I can’t see sub captains as “powerful”. Power means that you have the ability to initiate an direct an attack on your own authority. The selection of sub captains is such that most are “super sane”, and be very unlikely to make an unsupported and undirected decision to attack. They are intelligent tools in the broad scheme of things, but they are no more powerful that a B-52 pilot with nuclear warheads.

I would classify that as “pretty damn powerful”. The question isn’t who is most likely to use their power, but who has the most power to use.