There are 6.8 billion people on the planet. These are the 68 who matter.
We are fascinated by power. We stand in awe of those who apply it adroitly — and in fear of those who abuse it. We lust for power. Everyone would rather be a hammer than a nail.
The people on this list were chosen because, in various ways, they bend the world to their will. They are heads of state, major religious figures, entrepreneurs and outlaws. Comparing the relative power of such a diverse group is slippery business. To do it, we defined power in four dimensions. First, we asked if a person has influence over a lot of people? For heads-of-state we looked at population, for religious figures we measured the size of their flocks, for CEOs we counted their employees and for media figures we considered the size of their audience.
Second, we checked to see if they have significant financial resources relative to their peers. This meant comparing GDP for political leaders, net worth for billionaires and their ranking on the Forbes Global 2000 for CEOs. The Global 2000 lists the largest companies in the world based on a composite of market capitalization, assets, sales and profits.
Then we determined if they were powerful in multiple spheres, awarding bonus points for those who can project their power many ways. Silvio Berlusconi (No. 14), for instance, got a big boost for not only being the prime minister of Italy, but because he is also a billionaire media mogul who owns soccer team, AC Milan.
Finally we insisted that they actively wield their power. This eliminated some the richest people in the world, including Ingvar Kamprad, the billionaire founder of Ikea and the descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
We culled an initial suspect list of over 100 names to 75 and then asked seven Forbes editors to rank them in all four categories. Those ranks were averaged to produce the final list. Obviously our rankings are not intended to be definitive; they are meant to spark a conversation, even an argument or two.
They certainly produced some surprises. The editors picked Hu Jintao, the president of the People's Republic of China as the world's most powerful man, ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama (No. 2). Julian Assange (No. 68), the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, snuck onto the list in last place, while many traditional media types, including Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, fell off all together. In a clear sign of the times, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (No. 40) ranked a full ten spots higher than Bill Keller (No. 50, the Executive Editor of the New York Times.
Power can be used for good or ill and three criminals made the list this year: al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden (No. 57), Joaquín Guzmán (No. 60), the billionaire drug trafficker who heads Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar (No. 63), who runs a vast criminal enterprise in India and who is thought to have a hand in the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai which killed 174. These rankings are not meant to justify or glorify these odious men. They simply reflect reality.
© 2012 Forbes.com