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.

Post by:
Topics: China • Economy • United States

soundoff (1,257 Responses)
  1. r DURANT


    September 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  2. jon

    Regardless of who we owe, foreign debt holders make demands and control our government. Since CNN has finally listed just how much we owe, maybe we can get liberals to understand just how bad off we are. If you vote for Democrats knowing these facts, your a complete loser

    September 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • dennis

      think you misunderstood the information. but i would challenge you to follow the money through the economy and see which party makes the rules and ends up with all the money , we continue to amass debit through banking and trade and make it worse by cutting taxes on the wealthy . we fought for independence not because of taxes because of taxation without representation. we didnt have a voice than we dont have a voice now. the minority republician party controlls everything.

      September 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
      • China Chuck

        I just vote for the lesser of two evils...

        September 9, 2011 at 4:10 am |
  3. McGyver

    No mention of the Federal Reserve Bank.

    Last I heard we were paying them about 4.7 Billion a day in interest alone.

    September 5, 2011 at 8:09 am | Reply
  4. McGyver

    This article does say we owe the US Treasury about 11% of our debt. I hope there isnt some confusion between the US Treasury and The Federal Reserve.
    The US Treasury is a part of our government while the Federal Reserve is not. It is a PRIVATE Corporation and has no reserves. It's about as Federal as Federal Express. I think we owe them in the neighborhood of 6 Trillion Dollars.

    September 5, 2011 at 8:22 am | Reply
  5. stormy123

    Lets not forget, while India and China were living in mud huts, Americans were flying to the moon and inventing the Internet. The United States has TWICE the annual GDP of China with one fifth the population and India with its 1.4 billion has millions of starving people and a teeny tiny GDP compared the US. We are still comparing Apples to Oranges here.......

    September 5, 2011 at 9:12 am | Reply
    • teacher to ignorant

      Seriously, you need a lesson on history of the world and especially India & China.
      a close mind will never learn and a open mind will go places and not only learn but teach as well.
      pity your knowledge about the world.
      you are in a sorry state of being.

      September 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • Sharadare

      Hi, good morning! Stormy123, what a interesting story you said. You know what? Americans are not the first who invented internet. Serbia have had internet in the year of 1500 that the Balkans feared them greatly because they advanced so greatly that they have never known in their life. Americans were not the first to invent internet. Yes, they invented but Serbia invented internet long ago before America. I believe each one of us is intelligent.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  6. munko

    we will be at war with the chinks withing 20 years

    September 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • Andy

      War? I don`t think so, I am optimistical on the relationship between two countries!!!!

      September 8, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Reply
  7. unowhoitsme

    Why wasn't I asked if the government could borrow my SS retirement fund? Do I get interest on that money? What's the difference between our government and Madoff? Misspending our investment. I don't care how you look at it, it's stealing from the people, because now the government can't pay it off. It's impossible unless each person wants to donate about $140,000 to help pay off the American debt.

    September 6, 2011 at 7:51 am | Reply
  8. Dinky


    September 6, 2011 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • Brian

      Woah there, gotta distinguish the difference between the company who are happy outsourcing jobs with bought policymakers and the individuals complaining. We aren't one mind.

      September 7, 2011 at 5:53 am | Reply
  9. dennis

    no one talks about chinas enormous debt , the problem with china debt is they manipulate it much like their currancy . as compared to gdp chinas debt is 150 % to ours which is like 93% . so is china so much better off like everyone on here says.

    September 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Reply
    • 0__o

      Actually its only 26% of GDP both Domestic and External Debt together.
      Domestic: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2186rank.html
      External: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2079.html

      But yes, it helped that they manipulated their currency to get their debt this low.

      September 7, 2011 at 6:05 am | Reply
  10. Smulliganeous

    Kill the rich.

    September 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • Occupado

      My generation used to say that, too. Then we found out Jimmy Carter thought we were the rich.

      So we all voted for Ronald Reagan.

      Now it's your generation's turn to figure it out.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
      • .

        Good post, Occupado! Nice to know someone understand what's happening!

        April 22, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  11. dennis

    “If you take a very broad view of the Chinese government’s contingent liabilities rather than explicit debt on the books then the number comes to well over 150 per cent of China’s GDP in 2010,” according to Victor Shih, a political economist at Northwestern University in the US. The US has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 93 per cent

    September 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  12. lokochon

    baljeet is the coolest indian ever!

    September 8, 2011 at 4:47 am | Reply
    • .

      Wrong, loko... the coolest Indian ever was Sitting Bull.

      April 22, 2012 at 2:21 am | Reply
  13. Carl van Zijll de Jong

    Even not the Americans own themselves as if they can chose for success. “Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself, It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Yes, there comes a time for all of us to show our true colours. For your information Google The World Monetary Order.

    September 8, 2011 at 6:08 am | Reply
  14. JJ Pieksma

    to all posters above: stick to the subject, and try to offer solutions and ideas as supposed to demeaning other people's comments?

    September 11, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
  15. Willy

    Dinky is RIGHT – – every iPhone – every iPad is MADE IN CHINA – read the back of it – it Could Be USA – – but Govt Policies do not allow this – – "Make Jobs" Programs are "fixing pot-holes" – – Nothing that USA can EXPORT – – The Govt needs to THINK EXPORT – – Make JOBS that EXPORT Products – – or PREVENT IMPORT (like Oil) – – It is that SIMPLE

    September 11, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • .

      Vote Republican, Willy. Because the public sector unions don't care about YOU. They only need you to pay your taxes to they can retire at 50 on fat pensions - at yours and your children's expense.

      April 22, 2012 at 2:20 am | Reply
  16. rumadyet

    Wow , I use to like this web site.There are a few post of people who read and speak with 3 or more syllables. I know the ones who need to read this won't get it. But please go to a real school. If you went to high school, you failed, but they passed you on. Please; I beg you go to school , read, travel and learn. It will open your mind. You really don't know what you are missing. Trust me you are missing a lot. I love debating with intelligent people. I don't think we need to agree about everything or anything. But please know what you are talking about. There is no room for racism in any discussion.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  17. Russiapride

    Gandhi likes little girls

    September 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • .

      And whatta you like, Ruskie? Little boys?

      April 22, 2012 at 2:18 am | Reply
  18. Garda

    Israel owns america, look how US economy breakdown to pay war for israel, look how US bow to israel and do nothing when their citizen died on israel attack. On the other hand, China is getting stronger and soon to be the most powerfull nations in the world. If i were american, i would start worried about that.

    September 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  19. Gracie

    I am glad I was not the only one to notice the number don't add up to 100%. The totals they give only add up to 75.5. Who owns the other 24.5% of our debt???? Why didn't someone check their math????

    September 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  20. Oluwatunmise Alake

    It's england who owns the U.S.A in economical and the indans own the land

    September 12, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  21. MightyMo

    I think it's funny when Americans talk about poverty in other countries. First, if you divide 14 trillion by 320 American men, women, and children, every single one of us owes $44000. But worse, and much closer to home is that there are so many Americans living in poverty. A family of 5 earning less than 25.5K is poverty! Throughout the 90's poverty declined, then it started climbing each year since 2000 (Bush legacy again I guess). Now, approximately 14 percent of Americans live in poverty. By itself that doesn't sound bad, but when you consider that America has so much of the worlds wealth it's a crime!

    September 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  22. bjal

    Debt is one thing jobs is another, don't confuse the two.

    September 14, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  23. Wang Dong

    一帮傻逼 你们现在说的这些东东 大家都心知肚明 真正的东西不给你拿出来讨论 光说不做 边做边说 只做不说 你们看着办

    September 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • Bob Boise

      Sorry Wang Dong Bong you mispelled the third character. You left out the left squiggel. You used the character for cow, when you meant to use the one for 'village idiot".

      September 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  24. Daniel

    I am paying off my debt.
    What's your shovel-to-hole ratio?

    September 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  25. mike from iowa

    The Fed was created by uber-rich Americans in order to capture tacpayer money. It encourages a national debt, so that "interest payments" can trasnfer huge sums of money to the alreayd rich. This is why Ron Paul wants to "End the Fed". It is a scam, Congress is completely sold-out to the uber-rich, which is why Congress reduces taxes in order to grow the National Debt in order to transform the middle-class into a Peasant Class. Our children will never escape this, it is a return to the middle-ages which our Founding Fathers revolted form.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Reply
  26. david

    this is a slap on the face of those retard racist that dont want immigrant on U.S. You guys humilated all immigrant cause they are here and US gets money from other country. So before you go to a chinese restaraunt and call him a fock imigrant think that you own them money you freak retards.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:11 am | Reply
    • Occupado

      We must forgive David. He obviously graduated from a public school.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  27. lorne

    So what happens if the social security fund goes broke and it owns 19% as the largest owner?
    And no one wants to pay more taxes to keep it solvent? Hmm.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:21 am | Reply
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