From the February 2013 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

Top 20 most influential: 2012 movers and shakers

In a year that included a rancorous presidential election campaign as well as global bank scandals uncovered seemingly every month, squeezing the largest influencers down to 20 was difficult. Although some may seem an extension of last year’s most influential, a number of the same problems on a global scale are proving to be intractable. One thing this year laid bare was a much more ominous trend that showed money and power trumps all. While still recovering from too-big-to-fail, we are learning that — at least in the banking world — there are some that are too-big-to-prosecute. Here is Futures’ top 20 most influential list of 2012.


BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States. In 2008 Barack Obama was a great story, but he benefited from being in the party out of power during a generational economic meltdown. He didn’t have that advantage in 2012, but managed to win re-election despite a slowly recovering economy and intense Congressional opposition. 

ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor of Germany. The economic travails of Eurozone economies have been like a broken record, with the only change being more member states moving to the “at risk” column. The one economy that has remained solid is Germany’s, making Merkel the most important player on the continent. 

HU JINTAO/XI JINPING, current and future chief executive of China. When it comes to influence, like it or not, we need to get used to the Chinese being major players. U.S. debt and the price of commodities are among many issues on which China has had and will continue to have an impact, and transitions of power always have been tricky in totalitarian states.

NATE SILVER, blogger/pollster. Silver, who gained fame for creating a better system to evaluate baseball talent, turned his quantitative talents to politics and came under criticism and even ridicule for his predictions that President Obama would not only win the 2012 election, but would win with a significant Electoral College majority. His analysis was spot on, accurately predicting every toss-up state along with the rest and consequently reducing the influence of many political pundits. 

SHELDON ADELSON, casino executive/political donor. Adelson acted first as former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s sugar daddy and then Mitt Romney’s sponsor. While you could argue the estimated $100 million he spent on the campaign to displace President Obama did not buy him the influence he wanted, any time a single individual can keep one candidate in the race through multiple primaries, he is exhibiting influence. 

MARIO DRAGHI, President of the European Central Bank. Draghi took over the ECB at the end of 2011 and immediately oversaw a €489 billion ($640 billion) loan program to European banks. He has administered the ECB’s own quantitative easing program and wrestled with a number of solvency-challenged Eurozone members

CONGRESS. While Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has contributed to political dysfunction by use of the filibuster and is the poster boy for Republican opposition, he and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid helped fashion the fiscal cliff compromise after House Speaker John Boehner struck out in the House. 

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