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. ATHE!ST


    October 13, 2011 at 1:17 am | Reply
  2. Mike Houston

    Polar bears and grizzlies, wolves and coyotes, bison and antelope, cougars and bobcats, prairie dogs and
    prairie chickens, alligators and garfish, bald eagles and red hawks, rattlesnakes and water moccasins, frogs
    and lizards, buzzards and owls, whooping cranes and wild geese..THEY are just some of the TRUE "owners"
    of "America" and those who survive the nastiness of all the red, white, black, brown and yellow men (ALL of
    of whom are just ugly strangers passing through) will one day own it all again...and they'll manage it far better
    than "WE" ever did....

    October 13, 2011 at 3:55 am | Reply
  3. Kweg Yung

    Corporate America's expansion into China was paid for by the American taxpayer. Bush's “tax cuts for the rich” policy helped to fund this transition. That's why no American jobs were created but a lot of Chinese jobs were. Republican politicians represent the corporate rich, the 'job creators'. When was the last time you saw a job created in the U.S.? The rich don't pay tax in this country and their corporations are physically based in communist China; where, by the way, SOCIALIZED healthcare and SOCIALIZED education are the norm and ALL the banks are state owned. These former American companies only pay tax in China, supporting a growing communist government and military. Republican politicians sold us (U.S.) out. These guys aren't batting for us (U.S.) anymore.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • Mike Houston


      October 14, 2011 at 3:29 am | Reply
  4. razel

    If you sum-up percentages it's totaling to 75.5, not 100%. It's a shame for CNN to print such a data

    October 14, 2011 at 9:29 am | Reply
  5. Ras Gregory


    October 16, 2011 at 9:45 am | Reply
  6. Ras Gregory


    October 16, 2011 at 9:45 am | Reply
  7. 林娜王


    October 16, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
  8. William H' Heilman


    October 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  9. Ed

    With that much money owed to all creditors-whether US banks or other countries, when can we be liquid again? Maybe never. Result–US economists will redefine that stability of a country can be quantified by how much it owes creditors. WOW!!!!! I hope I get credit that I thought about this first.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply

    getting curry smell

    October 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply

    How Could it be possible INDIA gonna super duper power ? Indian KID eat rock from the street and man sold there wife for the debt , now you telling India is SUPER DUPER POWER ? You have got kidding at me huh ?

    October 31, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  12. Bikram singh

    Indian Firms Employ Tens of Thousands of Americans: US Official

    Noting that India's direct investment in the US has grown by an average of 33 percent each year since 2005, a top US official has acknowledged that Indian companies employ tens of thousands of Americans.

    By IANS September 28, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

    Noting that India's direct investment in the US has grown by an average of 33 percent each year since 2005, a top US official has acknowledged that Indian companies employ tens of thousands of Americans.

    In the decade between 2000 and 2010, Indian investment has increased from a negligible $96 million to over $3.3 billion, deputy secretary of state Bill Burns said at the 3rd FICCI-Brookings Dialogue on "Is there a future of India-US strategic dialogue" here Tuesday.

    India-US bilateral economic relationship is anchored in the realisation that their long-term interests are essentially congruent and mutually reinforcing, he said at the event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry with the Washington think tank.

    "Together, we are drawing the best from both of our societies to make better products that compete and win in the global economy," Burns said noting Tata Steel has a plant in Ohio, while Boeing uses engineers in Bangalore to design 787s whose parts are manufactured across America.

    Noting "the modernisation of India and the lifting up of hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty necessarily remains the focus of the Indian government", he said India has no more important partner than the US in this endeavour.

    "This extraordinary - and so far extraordinarily successful - effort requires India to sustain its high rate of economic growth, open markets for its goods and services, and attract the investment needed to realise its vision of inclusive development," he said.

    "There is no more important partner for India in this endeavour than the United States," Burns said.

    Over the past decade, India-US bilateral trade has doubled and then almost doubled again, he said while US total direct investment in India rose 10-fold, from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $27.1 billion in 2010, he noted.

    November 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  13. Bikram singh

    check this -> US pushing to sell radar-evading F-35 fighter jets to India


    November 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  14. Cheap Indians

    Fareed Zakaria talks what the CNN intructs him, otherwise he will lose his job. CNN network, is a same political propaganda machine, no different from the radio or television stations of the east block countries.

    Perhaps Fareed forgot where he came from. If Fareed is really political savvy, he should compare India with China and tell the audience the sharp difference between those two countries. Do not use the political rhetoric to criticize. Facts: China and India have similar population. However, China has the world 2nd largest GDP, 2nd largest public transportation (subways, bullet trains and bus systems) and has one of the world best sport teams. How about India ? At least 30 years behind China. Any visitor will see the public transportation in India is a mess. Highway quality is so horrible that you do not want to see. Apart from criquet sport, has anyone seen India won any major sport event ? Swimming, Gymnastics, Track and Field ? The Indians think they are Europeans, except their economy is so far behind.

    November 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  15. Napoli

    Wow, what a relief. I thought Mandarin was coming mandatory since Spanish didn't quite make it as an official national language.

    Can you tell the Owners of Greece to SELL before they go bankrupt?

    Jokes aside, thanks for the obscure factoid.....I had zero idea in spite of all the (dis)information at our finger tips these days.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  16. myoleman

    WHO OWNS AMERICA? (Hint: it's not china) –Of course not. America's real owner is our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only America, but the whole world. Now, on the other hand, America owes its debt primarily to the 1% who owns everything else in the nation.

    November 6, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  17. Tony

    It's easy to forgive our own debts but to owe $4.5+ trillion dollars to someone else is a burden to we can never repay. We'll be held accountable for the rest of America's history on Earth. Our reputation of owing what we can't pay back is nothing patriotic or honors our forefathers. We went down a road of true embarrassment.

    November 6, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  18. Tony

    REVISED. It's easy to forgive our own debts but to owe $4.5+ trillion dollars to someone else is a burden to which we can never repay back. We'll be held accountable as swindlers for the rest of America's history on Earth. Our reputation of owing what we can't pay back is nothing patriotic or shows any honor our forefathers. We went down a road of true embarrassment.

    November 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  19. a78

    I still am trying to figure out who Ghandi is!

    November 9, 2011 at 12:50 am | Reply
    • krm1007

      INDIA: On a Goat and a Stick:

      The problem with India is that is built on a system of cultural and societal values based on Hinduism which is a cult. Nations built on a cult seldom survive in the long run. You can only take it so far based on symbolisms of a goat and a stick with a skinny little man aka gandhi banging boys at night and spinning wheels during daytime.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  20. krm1007


    November 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  21. vladimir vova

    the idiot who says india is a cult ridden country is an idiot for sure and chinese are not ugly and america is not going down the drain too because america is a country which values freedom and any country which values freedom will never fail .

    November 16, 2011 at 3:52 am | Reply
  22. Carpenter

    So basically America is eating itself alive with dead. Biting our own tail per se.

    November 17, 2011 at 1:37 am | Reply
  23. Totally free a legal judgment...

    Becky it sounds like your also blaming the LDS church for your prior issues. Free Agency is the key here, not the LDS church forcing you.

    November 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  24. Porsha Wooddell

    The phrase was "LIFE ALTERING" I have the answer to the riddle! If the writers would like to contact me I would gladly tell them about what was on page 47. It's a bold statement I know but we could take movie goers to a totally new place never seen before. I don't claim to be better than anyone else who has written comments but my answer to the riddle is "LIFE ALTERING". Think of my comments as an anomaly and thats what they are looking for. The history I speak of is not as it seems, people have missed what was was right in front of them. NO CHARGE!

    December 8, 2011 at 3:21 am | Reply
  25. Mary Ziebart

    Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, quite great article.

    December 8, 2011 at 6:50 am | Reply
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