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 (1,257 Responses)
  1. Andrew

    Tom Mucha still thinks the year is pre-1997. Wake up, Hong Kong is under China.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  2. P

    Your country is a cess pool of coruption and bigatroy. Your rich are the worst and one day the poor will run India. Your treatment of your own people is a complete shame but you rich there think you are better then 90% of the ones living on the streets; You should burn in hell. Then you come to america and think your white. You are a camel jockey and always will be you no go for nothing wealthy of India. Shame on you for treating your people the way you do with live in slaves you hire for nothing nd think you are doing them a favor, You should shine tthe poor shoes you good for nothing racist

    September 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  3. Gandhi92lol

    I am Indian. I've been to India and China. India is a country still under the works. While China is in the final phases of its work. Economically China is better. But i still want to live in a Communist country where I am able to have only one child.
    Econ – China
    Living in – India
    Freedom – India
    Standard of Living – The big cities of China
    Both countries are still under the works but in the end they will catch up. btw India is about 5 years behind China. China is 5 – 10 years behind the U.S (nt economically but just development wise)

    September 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  4. Nekro

    hahahahahah India was the creator of the number 0 cheappp

    September 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  5. Joe

    India needs to solve it's border conflicts with China, and be able to drill for oil in cooperation with Vietnam without running away from China!

    September 18, 2011 at 5:41 am | Reply
  6. Don

    How can the treasury owe the treasury? did they mean the federal reserve, if so, scary!

    September 18, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply
  7. Don

    are the bonds owed to social security in a lock box?

    September 18, 2011 at 11:40 am | Reply
  8. RealSmart

    All Pakistani terrorist should shush, and look at their own breeding terrorist country than comment on civilized countries..

    September 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • BigOil

      Pakistan is a failed angry state on the brink of collapse. The angry desert marauders of Pakistan are killing each other like crazed maniacs. Pakistan will implode, they are angry and killing each other, not to mention the racist Qom system of Pakistan where the elites oppress 90% of the population.

      September 19, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply
  9. breed11

    Do you know the Dutch took the Indians as slaves to South Africa, fun fact. That's where Ghandi was born.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • anil

      what is fun in rejoicing about slavery . no wonder many humans still endure slavery especially women and children. you really have a sick mind if you think slavery is fun. slavery is disgusting blot on humanity , i am sure most Dutch will agree . it has no moral or scientific basis . you really should be ashamed of gloating over the suffering of other humans .of course we indians are extremly proud of Gandhi , His name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. I am sure many Africans , Americans are also proud about his ways of awakening Human conscience to care for others and have no malice.

      September 19, 2011 at 5:46 am | Reply
  10. Ty Tymkovich

    Ty Tymkovich thinks America owns America. Tyrone Tymkovich.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  11. xyz

    Has anyone added up the numbers in the article? They don't add up! Really, add them up, it's simple math. The percentage number comes to 75.5%. Where's the rest? Shouldn't they add to 100% if this is the total... "total amount held and percentage of total U.S. debt, according to Business Insider". It did when I learned simple math in second grade. Come guys do your homework! Don't just repeat what somebody else says. You should be embarrassed.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:39 am | Reply
  12. scndnv

    Cute 🙂

    September 20, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply
  13. xyz

    "Truth is elusive. But it's a good thing we have math." According to your math it's still elusive.... Where's the other 24.5% of the 14.3 trillion? (hint: it's about $3.5035 trillion)

    September 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  14. Precision is Key

    I think there's a mistake in this article. It says the US Treasury owns 1.63 Trillion. Ummm... how does the US Treasury own it's own debt? I think it's supposed to say Federal Reserve... They are not the same.

    September 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  15. Willie T

    We are going fishing tomorow, yahoooo .

    September 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  16. pramod

    @Eric Hoffman you are indian too my friend.. stop acting like u are an american!! 🙂

    September 21, 2011 at 10:36 am | Reply
  17. Tina L. Moore or Airwnd Cloud

    The Conflict of China's President in the name of "Who" or Hoo!

    September 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  18. prakash

    Its GANDHI not GHANDI !

    September 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  19. Allan

    I just got a $829.99 iPâd2 for only $ 103,37 and my mom got a $ 1499.99 HDTV for only $ 251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiòt to ever pay full retail prices at places like Wâlmart or Béstbuy. Go here at CoolCent.còm

    September 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • John the tipster

      The phonny penny acution sites. Scam of thevyear

      September 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      Let us know if the I-pad and flat screen TV actually arrive.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  20. John the tipster

    Typical Indian comment fart from a big ass pretending that they are so greate and India must be the model to be folloed around the world. I have 2 things to tell this guy . 1- build enough out houses in India so torest won't get disgusted and sick when watching people urninating and taking dumb on the streets and specially watching the site where it is a group effort when one finishes othe come in and begins. Next the Manson is not somting new to India and cities and town should not be floded year after year as if it something new. So when yo fix thies simple problems then try to join big boys club in a sound Desscussion .

    September 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  21. John the tipster

    It is funny how Indians a Pakistaniu jump at each other throughout every time they hear something negative about them selves . Same with israelis and palestinians if a leaf falls out of a tree they will blame each other for it.

    September 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  22. James Hovland

    Clinton didn't have a deficit, didn't cut taxes, and the economy did well.

    The GOP's anti tax policies and Bush's tax breaks for the rich is why we don't have the revenue to pay the bills and why we're in debt.

    September 25, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      Clinton was dragged kicking and screaming to a balanced budget by the Republican Revolution in 1994.

      Dick Gephardt said a balanced budget was bad economic policy.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  23. BFOTO

    The Social Security trust fund is holding $2.67 trillion, or 19% of US debt. If that doesn't scare you nothing will. So much for counting on SSI when you retire!

    September 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  24. Bob Boise

    Zakaria was born in Mumbai (then Bombay), Maharashtra, India, to a Konkani Muslim family.[4] His father, Rafiq Zakaria, was a politician associated with the Indian National Congress and an Islamic scholar. His mother, Fatima Zakaria, was for a time the editor of the Sunday Times of India.
    Zakaria attended the Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University,[2] where he was president of the Yale Political Union, editor-in-chief of the Yale Political Monthly, a member of the Scroll and Key society, and a member of the Party of the Right. He later earned a Doctor of Philosophy in political science from Harvard University in 1993,[2] where he studied under Samuel P. Huntington and Stanley Hoffmann.
    Again why do we allow these foreigners into our country. He is not an American. Why should he have been llet him into an American PHD program...we might as well hire the Taliban to guard our nuclear sites. It is insane that America is so self defeatist that anyone can come to America now..legally or not ..and the leftists let them all in. We deserve to be destroyed, we have no sense of country any more.

    September 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • Ptrika

      And you are native American, Mr Boise? At some point you or your ancestors most likely came into this country as an immigrant. BTW, Mr. Zacharia had nothing to do with this article.

      September 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  25. Bob Boise

    Maybe we will get lucky, promise Zakaria the presidency if he can convince India to nuke Pakistan and China...a 2 for 1 special. Right, "Bob"?

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

    The numbers do not add up

    September 26, 2011 at 6:32 am | Reply
  27. maybeajoke

    It is awesome to own America by American. India is greatest.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:29 am | Reply
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