Friday, August 24, 2012

A Hillary Sandwich

To find out what’s going on in the world you can choose between the hundreds of ponderous analyses published every days in as many languages.

Or, you can ponder Forbes' Magazine’s choice of the top three most influential women in the world: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Out of curiosity I tried to find Forbes’ last year’s list, but it had already been updated to reflect this year’s choice.  So I went to 2010, and here is what I found:

“The top-10 ranking alone reveals three powerhouse black women, whose success plants the seed of possibility for generations of women to follow: Michelle Obama (No. 1), Oprah Winfrey (No. 3) and Beyonce Knowles (No. 9). The GLBT community is also well represented at the top. Openly gay Ellen DeGeneres (No. 10) has brought lesbianism to the mainstream with massive platforms .... .At just 24, Gaga wields a daily audience of 25 million on Facebook and Twitter and earns $62 million a year. Indra Nooyi (No. 6), CEO of $43 billion beverage giant PepsiCo, is an Indian-American. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 4) and Australian mega-bank Westpac CEO, Gail Kelly (No. 8), reflect a growing global distribution of power.”

The glossy business magazine’s editors probably never imagined how the list would look two years later: Merkel went from number 4 to number 1, while Rousseff went from 95 to 3, and Michelle Obama went from first place to 7th. In terms of the relative importance of show people, Oprah went from 3 to 11 and Lady Gaga from 7 to 14.

One of the things I take away from these shifts is that someone on the prestigious magazine has realized that the political and economic situation of the world deserves more attention than show-biz and social mores. But it may even be dawning on some that the world’s center of gravity is no longer in Washington, even if Hillary is in second place.

Germany remains Europe’s powerhouse, but Hillary’s recent African safari is a hopeless attempt to stem the influence on that massive continent of China and India. And Brazil is one of the four BRIC countries (the fourth being Russia) that are calling the shots as fast as we are losing it  (South Africa was recently tacked on to the list, probably more as a gesture to the other huge continent besides Latin America that is coming into its own than thanks to its economy, at least at present.)

Whichever way you slice it, the oft-heard expression ‘a multi-polar world’ serves as much to paper over America’s decline as to showcase new power centers.  We cannot predict the respective importance of Brasilia, Moscow, Peking or New Delhi within the new configuration that is emerging, but one thing we can be certain of is that, as I wrote in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde ‘solutions will no longer be found in Washington but in ‘Peking, New Delhi and’.....Moscow.

Forbes’ list of most powerful women on the world stage is meant to be entertaining, but it’s message signals a tectonic shift.

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