Power is a complicated concept. It means different things in different scenarios, but in general, it refers to the ability to wield authority, force, and influence. Within international relations, it can refer to economic or military power, as well as an actor’s ability to influence other actors through coercive, cooperative, or competitive means. In this article, we’ll discuss 13 individuals who wield significant power in 2023. We consider factors like their wealth, their positions of authority, and their social influence. Because it’s difficult to quantify the power of an individual, they’re not listed in order of how much power they have.
In 2023, the 13 most powerful people in the world are Xi Jinping, Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, Olaf Scholz, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Sundar Pichai, Emmanuel Macron, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, Rishi Sunak, and Pope Francis.
#1. Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping is the president of China, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and one of the world’s most powerful men. In a 2022 Reuters article, he was described as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People’s Republic of China. The article goes on to explain how Xi shifted China from its traditional collective leadership style to a style where he’s essentially the sole leader. He’s gained more control of the military, parliament, and state media. In 2017, he even amended the party’s constitution to include his political ideology: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. In what many call an authoritarian rule, Xi now oversees the country with the world’s largest (though not the most powerful) military and second-largest economy.
#2. Joe Biden
Whoever is the current president of the United States will most likely always be among the world’s most powerful people. In 2023, that’s Joe Biden, the country’s 46th president. The United States has the world’s most powerful military, the most powerful economy, and the third-largest population. Its huge navy lets it have a military presence around the world, while the country spends significantly more money on its military than any other nation. The US also has significant cultural influence as over 2 billion of the world’s population speaks English and American-made films, music, games, and TV have a massive international market. While Joe Biden’s power comes as a result of simply being the president, he also has decades of foreign policy experience.
#3. Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin is the president of Russia. He has served as either president or prime minister since 1999. He also worked as a KGB foreign intelligence officer for almost two decades. Due in part to Russia’s natural gas and coal reserves (they have the world’s largest and second-largest reserves, respectively), Russia’s status as an energy superpower has grown while its democratic instruments have shrunk. Putin and his government have a long history of imprisoning political enemies, suppressing independent media, and corrupting elections. Russia has also gained influence in the Middle East, strengthened ties with China, and exercised aggressive military force in Crimea (2014) and Ukraine (2022).
#4. Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi has been India’s prime minister since 2014. He holds Hindu nationalist beliefs, and during his tenure, he’s been criticized for weakening democracy, individual rights, and freedom of expression. Despite these issues, Modi is very popular in India. India has the world’s fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and third-largest by purchasing power parity, and while the country is not yet widely recognized as a superpower, it’s getting there. According to the World Bank, India is attempting to reach high middle-income status by 2047, while in the last two decades, the country has done well in reducing extreme poverty.
#5. Olaf Scholz
Olaf Scholz has served as the chancellor of Germany since December 2021. He previously served as the Federal Minister of Finance and Vice Chancellor in Angela Merkel’s fourth cabinet. By GDP, Germany is the fourth most powerful economy and Europe’s largest economy. It’s a top exporter of chemicals, vehicles, machinery, and more, while its workforce is also very skilled. It is also the most populous country in Europe, and while it experienced major economic and military losses in the two World Wars, it is now considered Europe’s most influential nation.
#6. Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is an American businessman and founder of Amazon, which is the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing company. With a net worth of almost 164 billion, he’s the world’s third richest man. While he doesn’t hold a political office, Bezos wields significant power in the business and cultural spheres. Amazon, which was once an online bookstore, has since expanded into the world’s largest online store and changed shopping forever. Amazon Web Services makes most of the company’s money, however, with its offerings to over a million companies like Netflix Slack, and GE Power. While Bezos is no longer Amazon’s CEO, he remains one of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest people.
#7. Elon Musk
Elon Musk is the world’s wealthiest person. He’s the co-founder of several companies but is perhaps best known as the CEO of Tesla, Inc and founder of SpaceX. He also bought Twitter in 2022, which he changed from a public company to a private one and since renamed X. Musk’s immense fortune alone makes him one of the most powerful people, but his decisions trigger ripples in the business world and culture. As an example, since buying Twitter and making increasingly odd and unpopular decisions, Tesla’s stock has dipped up and down, while Musk’s image as a genius has been tarnished.
#8. Bill Gates
Bill Gates is an American billionaire and co-founder of Microsoft, which is one of the world’s largest software companies. During his time at Microsoft, the company exerted a huge influence on the tech world. After leaving Microsoft in 2000, Gates focused on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization that focuses on global health, climate change, development, and education. With his ex-wife, Gates is one of the world’s most influential philanthropists, and while there are many valid critiques of his work, Gates is also a popular target for conspiracy theories. At the time of writing, Bill Gates was the world’s sixth-richest person.
#9. Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai joined Google in 2004, and in 2015, he became the CEO. When Alphabet, Inc. formed as the new holding company for Google, Pichai became Alphabet’s CEO in 2019. Pichai has led the development of Google Chrome, helped launch the Android operating system, and spoke before Congress on data collection. How powerful is Google? It revolutionized search engines and became a tool used by billions daily. Alphabet is one of America’s “Big Five” information technology companies and one of the world’s most valuable companies. As CEO, Pichai has significant influence in the tech and business worlds.
#10. Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron has served as the President of France since 2017. He previously served as the Minister of Economics, Industry and Digital Affairs and Deputy Secretary-General to the President. France has the second-largest defense budget and largest military by size in the EU. It’s also the seventh-largest economy in the world and Europe’s third-largest after Germany and the UK. France is a wealthy country, and for centuries, it’s exerted significant influence in science, politics, and culture. Like many countries in Europe, it also has a history of colonizing other countries, which helped it accumulate so much wealth. President Macron’s popularity has declined over his tenure, but he remains powerful.
#11. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud
Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia. Worth at least $25 billion, he’s also one of the world’s richest people. As the prince and prime minister, MBS oversees an authoritarian government with no democratic instruments. Human rights activists, women, journalists, and scholars are routinely repressed, imprisoned, and tortured. The country has significant global influence as the largest economy in the Middle East and, according to the International Monetary Fund, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Most of the economy’s strength comes from the fact that Saudi Arabia is home to about ⅕ of the world’s total conventional oil reserves.
#12. Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak is the leader of the Conservative Party in the UK and the Prime Minister of the UK. He came to power amid a government crisis where PMs Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss resigned, Truss after having been PM for just 44 days. Sunak was elected unopposed. Most of Sunak’s power is thanks to the UK having the second-largest economy in Europe and sixth-largest in the world. The UK is also one of the United States’ most important allies, and while the nation no longer has the type of power it used to, its “soft power” is significant. Soft power is the ability to influence with cultural and political values as opposed to coercion.
#13. Pope Francis
Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church, which is one of the most powerful organizations in the world. The Catholic Church operates tens of thousands of universities, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and more. It’s also the largest non-government provider of healthcare and education. With over 1 billion adherents, Catholicism is the largest group of Christians. While his power isn’t absolute, the Pope does have decision-making power over the church and its members. During his tenure, Francis has pushed for more progressive reforms, such as increased acceptance for LGBTQ+ Catholics, interfaith outreach, environmental protections, and women in leadership.