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. kk

    yet one china is an authoritative and India is a democracy ...any person with some material in his head would opt for a democracy though the development is slow its guaranteed as it happened India got its Independence just 60 years back compare it with the US 60 years after its independence you will understand

    "people need to know that there is a country in Asia called Bhutan which recently turned a democracy and they don't have GNP"gross national product "where china and America will obviously be far ahead of others but have given more importance to GNH"gross national happiness" and many american scholars have also supported it .......where for sure china for that matter US will figure in bottom 50 .......majority of Indians and Bhutanese may be poor but they are satisfied and much happier than their Chinese and the Americans counterparts.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  2. cole

    for all you american haters on here who think china or india is better than america, who think the rest of the world hates us, well i will tell you all this when the crap hits the fan in all your countries who do you all call for, America thats who, not china, not india, not britain, not france, not germany, not brazil, or any other develop country, you all call for american help, so if you guys are so on top and you have americas number then step up when a crises occurs around the world say china or india will send aid, be it military or economic or humanitarian, while we do appriciate more countries being more prosperous because thats good for all mankind, what you do with that new prosperiaty for your fellow man what are you doing to keep people safe around the world when i here people in the middle east like syria, or libyia or egypt call for india or chinise help with a dictator or a disaister than down talk America until then while america is pulling all the weight while your countries sit back a prosper while letting america handle world problems you are not a super power you are a prosperous nation but no super power

    March 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  3. cole

    and isreal does not own america, we share a common religion not the same but common through Jesus alot of christians think they have a direct line to god by being isreal friend and having jesus as gods only son which ties their religion, so for christians they have a direct stake in the protection of isrealies and to have a people that you have a bond with come under attack you protect them like we would do with our other allies, but our other allies tend to live without fear of being killed by their neighbors, we also must dis agree with our allies when they go to far, or they need to take a chill pill and let cooler heads prevail, and sometimes it depends on who our president is will determine how much backing they will get but make no mistake any attack against them will trigger hostililtys from america

    March 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  4. amanda wallere

    victor is right about one thing, America has lost it's faith in Lex Luthor. I mean who was the one who saved the world from Imperiex, the destroyer of galaxies. It was Lex Luthor's presidential cabinet who spearheaded the earth's defence. It was he who solved the second great depression by buying the U.S. debt. Who gave the U.S. the technological advancement by creating a program called CADMUS. It was LEX LUTHOR. I still believe in Lex. He should be the next and only President of the United States. IN LEX WE WILL ALWAYS TRUST.

    March 13, 2012 at 4:30 am | Reply
  5. John

    As for who owns the US? Bankers. A few very rich bankers. Throw in some big corporations that have bought our politicians and you complete the picture. We are not free, we are all slaves to the bankers, corporations, and don't forget Israel because its the motherland for both of the above.

    FYI I am non religious. As far as I am concerned religion is a joke that has been created to control the masses. Who created the earth? A magical unicorn s hit it out in a beautiful spectacle of color and light. Sound ridiculous? About ridiculous as a dead guy coming off a cross and walking on water. Believe in your nonsense fairy tails while the real bogyman pulls the wool over your eyes. Wake up you stupid ignorant people and look at the world you have allowed to form right under your nose.

    Edit. Wow, CNN auto removes comments that mention Israel instantly. There is no way a human could have done it the same time I hit submit. Who is the crazy tin foil hat wearing one now?

    March 14, 2012 at 12:22 am | Reply
  6. John

    I had to spoof my IP and make it look like I was from Israel to get that last comment (and this one) to show up on this site. I wonder why CNN would not allow anyone from outside Israel to post comments about them? I am sure its just a site glitch. Just like CNN refused to report (what BBC reported) that Israel bought a bunch of billboards in NY that said US jews should come "home" because the US is just warping their minds and a bad influence. They should "go home" and take the Catholics, Museums, and the rest of the religious wack jobs with them when the go.

    March 14, 2012 at 12:26 am | Reply
  7. Mr2006

    How do country borrow money? Does Obama go to one of those country and ask do you have spare a cash man!!!

    March 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  8. Intrepid

    Friends of India, More cell phones exist in India than Indoor Toilets! Within India, the tyrants can extort and expropriate the earnings and assets of the middle class and the poor through inflation and corruption. Outside, thievery is not an option to the Republic's oldest profession, &'beggary' which is so dependent on 'good will'.

    March 15, 2012 at 1:36 am | Reply
  9. Intrepid

    New Delhi: As one of the 15-largest foreign creditors to the US, India's exposure to the United States' ballooning debts is estimated at $41 billion, higher than the money America owes to countries like France and Australia.
    The overall national debt of the US is moving nearer to $15 trillion, out of which it owes over $4.5 trillion to foreign countries holding the US government debt securities.
    While China is the single-largest holder of the US treasury securities with $ 1.15 trillion, India stands at 14th position with $41 billion (about Rs 1.83 lakh crore), as per the US Treasury Department.

    So as you can see Friends of India, you are a bit off the mark.

    March 15, 2012 at 1:39 am | Reply
  10. GrowersFeedingPeople.org

    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace! -Buddha

    March 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  11. jimbo

    Ive never read sooooo much- BS!!- in my life!! NOBODY! owns me nor anything on this planet but- GOD!!!
    Dont believe me!?- wait- thares a big rock comming! I think that'll solve all Q's!!!

    March 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  12. esurvival

    Reblogged this on eSurvival.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  13. Casey

    What about the missing 24.5% that is not accounted for?

    March 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  14. johnny

    The US Treasury owes itself. Hello, HELLO. Can people not realize the whole house of cards is a COMPLETE AND UTTER SCAM.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
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    April 2, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
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    April 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  18. benardquek

    This is ridiculous, how can America owe America 9.8 trillion of dollars when the American public don't even have a large savings pool to start with? It's like taking a lone from yourself when you don't have any money to begin with.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
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    April 12, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply
  20. Adam H

    4.5 trillion dollars is a lot. Just because we owe ourselves about twice that doesn't mean 4,500,000,000,000 is not a big number.

    It's like owing $100,000 on a credit card, but also owing $200,000 to your retirement account. You're not screwed less just because you also owe money on your IRA.

    April 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  21. Bill Smith

    This is absurd. They mixed debt with spending to make up this article. We do owe foreign governments money. We don't owe the social security system anything–that's how we're spending the money.

    We do owe the Federal Reserve the most money. These are a group of private banks. Basically we owe a few individuals that control the federal reserve banks most of the money. That's who owns America.

    April 13, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  22. Tony

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

    What a load B.S.. The truth is, the central banks own all of our debt and have us in shackles running on a perpetual wheel of tax payments that will never satisfy what they say we owe. Which in reality is zero since the money is as good as what I can print here at home. What a fraud. Then you get people like Fareed who know the truth, but won't tell it because he's owned in part by the very same people. Gotta love corporate owned media who has a vested interest in never telling you about the scam that's being perpetrated on the world's population.

    April 14, 2012 at 2:53 am | Reply
  23. jack goldman

    The private secret US Federal Reserve owns the largest share of US public debt of any organization in the world. It's not mentioned on the chart above. That is the depth of the secrecy. The debt was created for nothing, for free, as Americans sell their children into debt slavery for global bankers. The private secret foreign owned US Federal Reserve bank is not American, not Federal, has no reserves, and is not a bank. All debt is created out of thin air the way people create debts as "promises to pay" in the future. Read the Money Masters by Bill Still on Youtube. It's three hours long but explains the whole thing so totally well.

    We are still paying for every war, every bullet, every plane, ever uniform, ever purchased for any war since the Mexican American war of 1846. The public debt has grown at 8% a year, paid interest only, since 1846. It's now $16 TRILLIOIN, Ten Trillion created in the last twelve years. We are in deep trouble. End the Fed or the Fed will end the USA.

    April 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  24. John

    I knew that we owned more of our own debt than any other source, but wasn't aware that we owned more than twice as much than the rest combined.

    April 14, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  25. John Too

    I am glad the USA owns most of itself, that is nice to know. Why would someone escape from China to the USA to return to its idealogical maw and clutches, its majority poverty? The people in Shanghai make the rest of the people in China sick with the class and economic divide. Snobs.

    April 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  26. Ron Paul, Like A Boss

    Before 1971 when the dollar was taken off the gold standard, US Households own the majority of America debt, as it should be. Individuals in debt on average normally pay their debts. Governments and government agencies in debt dont have to pay their debts. Thats what happens when you have a purely fiat currency, unlimited government spending. And thus, we are screwed unless Ron Paul is elected and returns fiscal sanity to government.

    April 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
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    April 18, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
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