Forbes magazine’s list of the most powerful people is out. Like the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the Forbes list reeks of obsequiousness to the status quo. It’s the sort of list you’d put together if you lived in Manhattan (Michael Bloomberg is No. 17) or Los Angeles and think the U.N. matters (Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is No. 38) and the New York Times is still the paper of record (new executive editor Jill Abramson is No. 64).
Topping the list is President Obama. Oh, really? This is the man snubbed by Mahmoud Abbas, incapable of getting sufficient support for his domestic initiatives from the Democratic-controlled Senate and increasingly predicted to be a one-termer. Obama might have the most firepower and the biggest economy behind him, but in his ability and willingness to exercise power, he’s a questionable choice for No. 1.
Cultural and educational figures are nearly entirely missing, as are scientists and economists. I haven’t a clue how the head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick (No. 49), or Timothy Geithner (No. 18) got on the list. The head of the International Olympic Committee is on it too (Jacques Rogge, No. 68), which tells me the Forbes editors really, really want to go to the Summer Games next year.
The list (with the exception of the numerous officials from China) could better be described as “Charlie Rose’s favorite guests” or “ossified elites” or “the political establishment.” Only a few of the rankings make sense (Vladimir Putin is No. 2, and Rupert Murdoch is No. 24.) The list, I think, tells us more about Forbes magazine and the clubby New York-D.C. corridor than about the world and who is driving events.
In fact, there’s a good argument that the most powerful people are largely anonymous: the Republican primary electorate, the protesters on the streets of Damascus, and the scientists studying aging and improving electric cars. But those people probably don’t read Forbes and are of no use in the elites’ mutual ingratiation game.
The reason the elites are always so surprised by the newest trend or movement (the Tea Party, the Arab Spring, the shift in attitudes on abortion) is that their worldview is cramped and outmoded. They spend too much time with one another. What can you say about people who think Jill Abramson is in the world’s top 70?