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. R Cunningham

    I read that the USA still has slaves. They must be in a foreign country. There are no slaves in the USA, period!! Is it tru that India reveres the rat god, snake god, or any other animal as a god? Do all asians eat dogs, man's best friend? East Indians enter the US because of state dept rules made by US businessmen that foreigners can work for 1/2 price to their employers, So, companies rewrite the resume to fit & they're hired. Many get fired, but any squirrill can find a nut sooner or later. When east indians come to the US & don't remove their turbans, how do they expect to fit in? Like jews with a yamalka. Do u see an american with a turban on his head when he goes to india??? And don't steal the coffee club money in a can even though u make $100,000 a year. Go home & take your expertise that u learned here with you including a PHD from a US school. Support your own country like the mexicans (those who are left) & stop sending money home-just go home. Don't light barbecues on a plane for lunch or put a running car exhaust to your apartment to stay warm, or wash you feet in the bathroom sink while sitting in the next sink 5 times a day. How much foreign aid are u getting from the US? Stop killing all the tigers so u can be "Macho man"& put their privates in your soup. Stop the Taj Mahal from dissolving. What are u thinking? Did u leave your morals home? On & on& on!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:13 am | Reply
  2. Peter

    When I totaled up the percentage, It is just adding upto 75.5%.

    Who is the remaining 24.5% owner ?

    September 28, 2011 at 10:53 am | Reply
  3. JM

    America owns America ... Is this good or bad? If it were not the case, than we could simply hyper-inflate our currency to get rid of all debts and annihilate financial systems of our debt holders and that would be good for America. But now it's obvious that inflation of our currency on one hand devalues all savings of our people on another hand.

    September 30, 2011 at 1:00 am | Reply
  4. Ptrika

    Yes, American debt is mostly owned by the American Investors. I am one of them. I believe in the economic stability of America. I am not worried about the Chinese or the Indian investors. They obviously feel the same way that I do about investing in American gov't securities. During the debt crisis American treasury investments remained steady.

    September 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  5. josephgordon

    Most of these are exporting countries where we have exported technology and jobs for decades. The trade inbalance reflects our lack of "industrial production" and resulting lack of living wage production jobs that has left us with low paying service jobs. We as a nation borrow to maintain our standard of living.. We need a "policyfor industrial production" that addresses our lack of producing. We have only a weak policy of hodge-podge actions and jaw-boning. It is not enough. Germany has more domestic regulation than we do. Yet it is still maintained itself as an net exporter offering its own people jobs..

    October 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  6. kfz versicherung berechnen oesterreich

    There Standard,sorry instrument imagine method before totally add beat incident illustrate rather regard fruit sound brief might month difficult reveal international short extremely defendant present oil whom far manage why session wine belief exchange literature bring that exercise record other context just loan suggestion least formal unable object talk form usually extend ground after clothes language step maintain remember friend court later arrangement choice vote error wing record detailed joint future rich target mother party slip per warm finger painting other consumer maybe warm performance code

    October 2, 2011 at 7:56 am | Reply
    • Occupado

      If you run for president, I'll vote for you.

      You make a whole lot more sense than any Republican or Democrat I've listened to in the last 5 years.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  7. Thinking7

    Hong Kong is part of China, and it is first on the list. So, who owns America? China.

    October 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  8. Alex

    The banks fully own America. The central bank prints dollars and lends them to the US government at an interest. The government then owes everything plus interest to the bank. So, the government owns nothing and owes everything to the bank.

    Just think about where all the money is coming from? The central bank prints the money, lends it to the government and private banks. Private banks, in tern, lend the money to the companies that hire people and pay them. People spend the money, buy things that those companies produce, pay taxes. The money goes back to the government, which owes the central bank.

    But how can the government pay more to the central bank than what it has? Remember, everything the government has is borrowed but it has to return everything borrowed plus the interest. Where to get the new money? Borrow more...

    Dead end.

    October 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  9. scat398

    Not to discredit this article, but does the author know that social security trust is owed in T-Bills that are purchased. That really shouldn't be on the list as the debt should be reflected in the countries that have purchased those bills.

    October 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  10. Beef4life

    Im moving to canada.

    Message me if you wanna come.

    October 3, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      I hear this a lot but you are missing something. Canada has standards. Sorry, you may not be good enough for Canada.

      To immigrate into Canada you have to have education, language ability, job skills. It's not like we will take any white yahoo with a bible in his hand.

      In fact, Canada is an increasingly diverse nation where 20% or 1 in 5 citizens were born somewhere else and chose to become Canadian. We welcome people who are willing to work hard and can learn to love and care about our country.

      And I am sorry, Elizabeth. But you do not know very much about my country, the things you have typed just are not true. Get yourself a passport and come visit, maybe you can learn a few things while you are here.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  11. slyalys

    Did anyone else notice that the percents don't add up to 100?
    There is a significant piece of the pie missing.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  12. Aurica

    I read all the comments, it is very funny. Money is not that hard to make, it is hard to keep. An international question for Americans: Why the CEO's need a salary of 8-10 mill. and workers not even a raise ? Is it hard to answer? Why the economy failed ?Where did America go wrong ? Americans do not ask for money, they ask for a safe job.

    October 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  13. Yeah !!!

    India don't count due to Caste System...They're good on cheating and kiss azz !

    October 5, 2011 at 5:37 am | Reply
  14. dougaussie

    that means China owns in USA land area terms about 300,000 square miles, or all of texas and south carolina. The richest one percent of americans own everything east of the missippi, while the poorest 150,000,000 americans own hawaii.

    October 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  15. hong

    both China and India are great countries with great potential and history. and they all want to be better instead of blaming. many arguments between these countries are actually created by others. both countries have intelligent people,who are making use of thishistorical opportunity to change their lives.

    October 9, 2011 at 7:39 am | Reply
  16. bobby

    By adding all these numbers, only got 76.5%, who owns the remaining 23.5%?

    October 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Reply
  17. Really? K.

    Didn't everyone already know this? Did people really think that China owned more of American than America owned of America? That assumption, like this article, is just plain silly.

    October 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  18. Veteran

    if India is so good, why those snake charmers come in droves to the US –
    and sit next to one in the A/C – awfuol curry smell – never heard of taking a shower.
    asked to be moved on last flt. FRA=-NY.

    October 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  19. Cavo1

    He meant Gandu...not Gandhi

    October 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  20. Ilyusha

    Indians are funny – they want to show at every cost that they are not suffering from a complex but they actually do

    October 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • krm1007

      India poses a clear and present danger to the regional security of the world. ...to USA...NATO...Pakistan and Afghanistan people and armed forces. Hindu cult extremism is on the rise and fanning all terrorism worldwide. Indians are the bankers to and financing terrorism and supporting Talibans and Al Qaeda and harboring them in India. These terrorists are being entertained in the Indian parliament building in New Delhi where they are residing and then smuggle dover to Pakistan in Indian Army helicopters. Shame on these Indians. Like the NAZI's they need to be stopped forcefully and immediately. If it takes bombing lets bomb India, if it takes Drones...lets drone New Delhi

      November 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  21. InsiteFX

    Goldman Sachs owns the government just take a look at who is in congress! the same thieves that got us into this mess

    October 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • Occupado

      Goldman Sachs owns Barack Hussein Obama, too. Bought and paid for the old fashioned way, with campaign funds.

      Is it 2012 yet?

      October 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  22. InsiteFX

    And here one that I like President Obama asking for 15 billion to repair all the foreclosed on homes, I mean why should the american tax payer pay for this when the Banks did the foreclosing they should be the ones fixing them because they own them now!

    October 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  23. Ruben Max

    What a scam! The government uses Social Security money to buy its own bonds... Unbeliveable...

    October 11, 2011 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  24. prof

    Nuke 'em!

    October 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Reply
  25. American Veteran

    OK bee aches! Pay me!

    October 12, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
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