I have a hypothesis I would like to get your feedback on.
I think that the most powerful person on earth (other than deities) has absolute authority over less than one person and would be considered to be individually and directly the most influential person by less than one hundred other people. Everyone else exerts power not through force but through influence – mostly indirect influence.
I have the pleasure of knowing several people who think that the Republican or Democratic party (or both) are controlled by a monolithic power center. A small group of people that control (or are about to control) America and/or the whole world. I sure do not see a lot of difference between the parties, but from everything I have been able to discover about the nature of people in general and about people in power, specifically, I do not think that kind of centralization of power is possible. Granted, way too much power gets concentrated in a few people for a short period of time, but everyone who has ever ruled the world has discovered that for all their power they still cannot do most of the things they most wanted to do.
You can only control a few people you have direct contact with. If you have a really great system, the people you control will control other people and so through many layers, but even then each person that comes between you and the people you try to control will decrease the level of influence you are able to exert. And that is only if every one likes you. If not, you will have factions among your followers they will be working against each other and against you.
I have been reading a book recently about Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and several others of the fourth generation of leadership in China. It is an amazing story of how several different factions work behind the scences to gain power while at the same time presenting a very unified front.
That unity is only on the surface. Behind the golden veil are a bunch of ordinary guys who cannot do anything without approval of several political rivals and the further you go down though the hierarchy the greater the disconnect between what the guys at the top intended and what actually occurs.
One example of this is an interview I will be posting tomorrow. In it Wen Jiabao talks about the progress that China has made toward democracy. Through many direct contacts in China, and even through reports seen in the media, we can see a huge gap between what the Chinese leadership is seeing and reality. Part of the gap is probably fear. Who is going to tell the boss that things are not going so well. Another reason is corruption. Bribes are a great way to get in on all the profits those rich capitalists are making. And of course, who is going to report that to the higher ups? I am not claiming that China is unique in this, it is just well known for its one-party system and absolute control over everyone and everything.
I am just saying that the chinese government is scary powerful, but not all powerful.