Who owns America? Hint: It's not China
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July 21st, 2011
04:30 PM ET

Who owns America? Hint: It's not China

Editor's Note: The following piece comes from Global Post, which provides excellent coverage of world news – importantmoving and odd.

By Tom Mucha, Global Post

Truth is elusive.  But it's a good thing we have math.

Our friends at Business Insider know this, and put those two principles to work today in this excellent and highly informative little slideshow, made even more timely by the ongoing talks in Washington, D.C. aimed at staving off a U.S. debt default.

Here's the big idea:

Many people — politicians and pundits alike — prattle on that China and, to a lesser extent Japan, own most of America's $14.3 trillion in government debt.

But there's one little problem with that conventional wisdom: it's just not true. While the Chinese, Japanese and plenty of other foreigners own substantial amounts, it's really Americans who hold most of America's debt.

Here's a quick and fascinating breakdown by total amount held and percentage of total U.S. debt, according to Business Insider:

 

  • Hong Kong: $121.9 billion (0.9 percent)
  • Caribbean banking centers: $148.3 (1 percent)
  • Taiwan: $153.4 billion (1.1 percent)
  • Brazil: $211.4 billion (1.5 percent)
  • Oil exporting countries: $229.8 billion (1.6 percent)
  • Mutual funds: $300.5 billion (2 percent)
  • Commercial banks: $301.8 billion (2.1 percent)
  • State, local and federal retirement funds: $320.9 billion (2.2 percent)
  • Money market mutual funds: $337.7 billion (2.4 percent)
  • United Kingdom: $346.5 billion (2.4 percent)
  • Private pension funds: $504.7 billion (3.5 percent)
  • State and local governments: $506.1 billion (3.5 percent)
  • Japan: $912.4 billion (6.4 percent)
  • U.S. households: $959.4 billion (6.6 percent)
  • China: $1.16 trillion (8 percent)
  • The U.S. Treasury: $1.63 trillion (11.3 percent)
  • Social Security trust fund: $2.67 trillion (19 percent)

So America owes foreigners about $4.5 trillion in debt. But America owes America $9.8 trillion.

For a smart take on how President Obama and House Republicans should end gridlock over debt and deficits, see our new GlobalPost series The Negotiator, which features Wharton's negotiation guru Stuart Diamond.

And to bone up on China's debt — another potentially big global economic headache — check out this interview with brainy-yet-coherent Northwestern University economist Victor Shih, who spoke with GlobalPost's David Case.

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Topics: China • Economy • United States

soundoff (1,222 Responses)
  1. El Matador

    If they could just figure out how to make their food not smell like hot garbage and old dirty diapers....only then will they become a super power.

    August 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  2. Chris

    Well I'm not at all surprised to see the Social Security trust fund as the sucker holding all the IOUs. Social Security is like an area rug for Washington–who knows what's really swept under there.

    But I'm very curious about 1 entry and the total lack of another. How exactly does the U.S. treasury hold 1.63 Trillion of its own debt? And why are the Central Banks left out of this equation?? Where is the Federal Reserve?

    August 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  3. NorCalMojo

    I think the comments on this thread demonstrate why the US will remain the undisputed superpower for a very long time.

    August 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  4. james

    Yeah, China and India have been around for thousands of years; yet, in just 200 years, the United States far exceeded all of their combined achievements. Imagine if China or India had ever had men such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin etc., to change the role of government from total control to being subservient to the will of the people. And yes, the chinese gov and indian gov hate what america is and stands for: Imagine you start a club, call it China, and you are in complete control. Everything made by your club belongs to you to redistribute how you see fit. Then along comes this new club, call it the United States, and it is allowing its people to create what they want, keep what they make and to profit. Now the people in your club see this and they too want this freedom. Doesnt it make you angry that the other club even exists? Before them, you had complete control, no questions. Now your members are wanting to go to the other club if you dont become like the other club. Yeah, it is easy to see how the rest of the world's governments hate the United States; their people dont hate us, their governments hate us.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Reply
    • That'snottrue:[

      The US government hates you too, stop living in a dream world or the 1900s, check out the CIA report that came out, they partnered with Gaddafi, before backstabbing him, its on CNN.
      People despise the US because of its war/fear mongering ways, the examples....ummm all the wars your country is involved in.

      September 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  5. Shrek

    looks like these comments are from gigglepedia.com

    August 24, 2011 at 3:37 am | Reply
  6. My Bad Dude

    Good Article about USA debt!

    August 24, 2011 at 9:38 am | Reply
  7. Xasthur

    So we have to pay ourselves back with money made of paper that isn't backed by gold or anything? Why does this seem solvable?

    August 24, 2011 at 11:16 am | Reply
  8. DR

    Isn't anyone concerned that the math in this article is way off? Add it up. The dollars and the percentages. Poor reporting!

    August 24, 2011 at 11:27 am | Reply
  9. IanS

    Wait, that list only adds up to 75.5 %,
    15% is about $ 2,200,000,000,000. seems a bit of an oversight.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • IanS

      (now look at that math an wonder if you were distracted by big numbers again)

      August 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  10. randy

    NOT ONLY DOES AMERICA OWN AMERICA.... WE OWN A LARGE PART OF FORIEGN DEBT .

    THEY NEVER TALK ABOUT THAT ,, BUT WE OWN OVER 5.2 TRILLION IN FORIEGN DEBT .. .. AND DID YOU KNOW AMERICAN PRIVATE SECTOR EQUITY IS OVER 55 TRILLION DOLLARS ..OUR FEDERAL GOVT ASSETS IS OVER 42 TRILLION DOLLARS ..

    AND PEOPLE BASH AMERICA AS BEING BROKE , DESTROYING CONSUMER CONFIDENCE THERE BY DESTROYING OUR ECONOMY .. WHY DOESNT OUR PRESIDENT COME OUT AND EXPLAIN TO THE PUBLIC THAT WE ARE NOT BROKE ?

    ITS BECAUSE HE WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE WE NEED TO PAY MORE TAXES .. TELLING YOU AMERICA IS BROKE ... HOW COULD THEY RAISE TAXES ON A BROKE PUBLIC?

    THEY CANT .. STHEY KNOW OF THE WEALTH .. DOW JONES MARKET CAP IS ALMOST 4 TRILLION DOLLARS .. THE S&P 500 IS OVER 10 TRILLION MARKET CAP ..THE NASDAQ AND NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE IS OVER 10.6 TRILLION DOLLARS .. ...

    COME ON PEOPLE .. WAKE UP ..ONLY OUR GOVT IS BROKE .. THEY SPENT EVERY PENNY WE GAVE THEM .. AND NOW WANT MORE .. THATS WHY THEY ASK FOR MORE TAXES .. THEY JUST WANT TO PAD THEIR POLITICAL FUTURE FOR ELECTION PURPOSES ..

    EVERYTIME THEY DO SOMETHING THEY ADD VOTERS .. THEY JUST WANT TO MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES AT OUR EXPENSE .. THEY ARENT THERE TO SERVE OUR COUNTRY .. THEY ARE THERE TO SERVE THEMSELVES .. ITS TIME FOR A CHANGE IN WASHINGTON .. MAYBE ITS TIME TO GIVE THE REPUBLICANS A SUPER MAJORITY TO SEE IF THEY DO WHAT THEY PROMISE ..

    WE GAVE THE DEMOCRATS THEIR SUPER MAJORITY .. WE SAW WHAT THEY DID .. TRIPLE SPENDING .. IM 52 YEARS OLD AND NEVER IN MY LIFE HAS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAD A SUPER MAJORITY I CONGRESS TO DO WHAT THEY WANT . NOT IN MY LIFE TIME

    ANY WAY IF THE REPUBLICANS DONT CUT SPENDING WITH A SUPER MAJORITY .. THEN ITS TIME FOR A REVOLUTION AND REPLACE ALL INCOMBENTS ..

    August 24, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • lolwut?

      Dude, your caps-lock key is stuck. Write it again. This time properly.

      October 17, 2011 at 6:33 am | Reply
  11. HoCanThisBe

    If you cross the N. Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. If you cross the U.S. border illegally you get a job, a driver's license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & tax free business for 7 yrs. REALLY???? How can this be right, for our country, and our economy??? No wonder we are a country in debt. Honestly I think the American government should be overthrown, Voted of the Island,replaced, every single one of them. I mean seriously, how is this helping Americans or our economy when ALL these illegal 'aliens' have a job, or 2 or in some cases 3 and there is countless TAX PAYING Americans unemployed. Then they want to RAISE the TAXES so the REAL, LEGAL Americans have to pay the national debt. This is totally Screwed up. NO wonder America has this 14 trillion dollar national debt. IS ANYONE ELSE SICK OF PAYING FOR OUR GOVERNMENTS STUPIDITY????

    August 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • david

      First of all, the job that immigrant does you dont do. If u work a least 40 hours a week for you is too much. you just envy cause people around you is getting better in life than you. but ill tell you this, if you and 1 immigrant go to europe you would be the same because this is in the blood. you are too lazy to get 2 jobs. i believe you work at autozone or macdonalds. and anyways that is worse things in the US that kills the economy. ill give you a big example: Did you know that the goverment pay for one person and 1 kid just for rent $1.300 and im not counting the food stamp.now check how much they pay a year for section 8 and this is something that i believe only american can benefit from. This way is good. u make a baby you eat, drink and live on government costs. Think more before you cry. and in Brazil if you cross the botter you get malaria and yellow fever by the way.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:25 am | Reply
  12. HowCanThisBe

    If you cross the N. Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. If you cross the U.S. border illegally you get a job, a driver's license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & tax free business for 7 yrs. REALLY???? How can this be right, for our country, and our economy??? No wonder we are a country in debt. Honestly I think the American government should be overthrown, Voted of the Island,replaced, every single one of them. I mean seriously, how is this helping Americans or our economy when ALL these illegal 'aliens' have a job, or 2 or in some cases 3 and there is countless TAX PAYING Americans unemployed. Then they want to RAISE the TAXES so the REAL, LEGAL Americans have to pay the national debt. This is totally Screwed up. NO wonder America has this 14 trillion dollar national debt. IS ANYONE ELSE SICK OF PAYING FOR OUR GOVERNMENTS STUPIDITY????

    August 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Reply
    • mike grim

      It's because this country is run by big business and big business advertises in Mexico. Big business wants cheap labor. Big business wants workers with no rights what so ever.

      August 25, 2011 at 12:49 am | Reply
  13. mike grim

    Where's the other 24% ?

    August 25, 2011 at 12:41 am | Reply
  14. Mark

    These people should work for PR agencies or lawyers (which they probably are) because they put so much spin on this tale, that it will roll backwards when it hits the floor. I really hope no one buys this load...

    August 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  15. Victor Smadi

    The harsh fact remains, we are in too much debt regardless to who, we have to start digging for solutions, instead of dwelling over the problem itself.

    August 27, 2011 at 2:07 am | Reply
  16. Ty Tymkovich

    The money supply is replenished by borrowing more money. Ideally, the consumer would do the borrowing, but after a decade of excess borrowing, th consumer's debt is way way too high. So now the job of borrowing, to replenish our money supply, falls to the government. That is why the government spends stimulus money and why the Fed has programs like the QE2 – to create debt and thereby add money back into the system. Without that money, our economy would collapse. Ty Tymkovich.

    August 27, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  17. DJB

    我觉得好奇怪,那么多人从来没有去过中国,他们凭什么说三到四,凭什么下结论? 人类怎么都这样,总是充满了偏见和仇恨

    August 28, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply
    • BM

      Well, that is the way things are, it is human nature. Many people in China and the rest of the world will criticize the US without experiencing our culture or the way our society runs. Countries are made of many minds, not one.

      How can someone argue about a subject with assumptions and what others have told them?
      I wish people would think before commenting on here.

      September 7, 2011 at 6:12 am | Reply
  18. Robert

    OK..Plz speek english or get an education...First who replys on who?..agian who replys on who?..american needs china more then china needs america..do you understand..wipe the money fever of your face.china doesn't need america...china doesn't need america...china needs to depopulate..witch they'll be soon....so where is america in this..so where is america in this..do you understand...as lond as we need china they own us...AS LONG AS WE NEED CHINA THE OWN US. China can sell to anyone and everyone..SORRY CHINA CAN SELL TO ANYONE AND TO EVERYONE...DO YOU UNDERSTAND...Fist america doesn't own it's money...THAT IS PRIVET PROPERTY OWN BY THE FED..NOT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE...THE FED LOAN OUT THE MONEY BECAUSE TOO MANY POLICALS GET PAY OFF..THIS IS TO INSURE THAT NO ONE CAN RUN WIDE WITH THE MONEY AS PRESIDENT ELECTED BY MONEY,,

    August 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  19. Kailim

    I am a Chinese grown up in Hong Kong. Had met some Indians and Pakistanis there and made friends with them eventually. Like us, they are nice people. We have nearly the same family history of tears and blood due to political unrest caused by foriegn powers and local politicians. Gathering in the small place of Hong Kong for whatever reason such as making a better living etc actually got us seperated from our family members thousands of miles away. That is my impression of them.
    I therefore regard them as friends.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:14 am | Reply
  20. hello

    Why should anyone believe your numbers? Probably made up to protect the rich.

    August 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
    • Joker

      Lets face it. The world needs the poor countries such as India and China.

      Not that the countries are poor but the government uses the poor within the country to boost the country economically. Who will work for pennies in the USA. No one any more but when this country many years ago had an open imagration policy to bring in a cheap workforce We the USA became a wealthy country because we could compete with the world in terms of mass production and low cost since we had a cheap workforce and a few rich investors until inflation kicked in.

      Now it is China'a and India's turn. Their cheap workforce will raise the countries wealth until inflation kicks in and no one will work for pennies anymore. Sure that will take many years but it is the reason England and the USSR are no longer super powers. It is the circle of life.

      I say China will win due to the fact they can keep the poor, poor. If the poor become middle class their goes the countries futuer. Middle class will not work in sweat shops. Same with India but since India is more of a free market system there is no way to keep everyone poor and thus eventually the country will not be able to sustain their growth. China will not be able to either but we are talking many year from now. It is best to invest in future technology and new green tech and things like that. That is the only way the USA can compete. We cant compete anylonger with the cheap mass production and slave labor of China and India. It is the cirlce of life.

      P.S. why are we talking about India??????

      August 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  21. Stephen Cohen

    Who really cares who owns what. Its not like someone is going to reposses the United States. Life goes on and this is no big deal. I do believe that they should pass a law that no member of congress can get reelected to office until the debt issue is solved. Pass that law and guess what, we will no longer be in debt!

    August 31, 2011 at 4:06 am | Reply
  22. JimBob

    How to we pay ourselves back? No its the Govt that needs to pay the citizens back and stop forcing us to pay the GOVT. Take that gold out and start using that to pay Socal Security.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  23. Tom

    Easy solution to take back America:

    1. Stop importing other countries products. This STEALS jobs and money from AMERICANS

    2. Start manufacturing our own. This CREATES jobs and money for AMERICANS.

    3. Help only a small number of countries that have demonstrated loyalty to US in world affairs (only ones I can think of are UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). The rest? Tough s**t improve your "rep" with us if you want our help.

    September 1, 2011 at 9:01 am | Reply
  24. Gross national happiness-Bhutan

    Bhutan government expelled around 100,000 people to Nepal via the generous support of India. The U.S. government being too generous took around half of them to the U.S. The reason for the failure of the US is that they care too much and too many countries. They have their military presence in 80 countries and they've this weird 'EDV' system that intakes immigrants through lottery!They're spending trillions in wars and they won't spend in health and diseases.You people have lost your priorities.

    September 3, 2011 at 5:27 am | Reply
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