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 (1,223 Responses)
  1. S

    If I'm reading this right, the government is indebted mostly to domestic creditors. Foreign countries own approxmiately 30%. How are some of you still saying they own more? Are my calculations wrong?

    July 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  2. Martin Murray

    In other words freemasons have America under their thumb which is why so many evil laws are being passed recently. In a country that was founded on Christianity, there must be only 1% Christians left there and none in positions of power! Blame yourselves (the voters)!
    The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Reply
    • Ann

      LOL. Wrong about the past and wrong about the present.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:48 am | Reply
  3. do

    this guy is propagandist. pretty dumb leaving out the whole pie...

    July 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  4. Dave Emanuel

    While I'm sure it's not intentional, Zakaria's article misses the financial Texas two-step known as foreign aid. Some of the countries from which we have borrowed money are the recipients of financial aid from the United States. Consequently, computation of actual debt should incorporate the costs incurred when money is given away, then borrowed from the recipient and repaid with interest. If the United States gives a country $1 billion, then borrows $1 billion from that country, the net effect is an increase in aid (interest payments) that is written off as debt service. If the money is never repaid, it's a net zero transaction, even though the debt will still be listed. If it is repaid, it's no longer listed as direct debt, but did in fact contribute to the overall national debt. If the Federal government weren't so intent on giving money to foreign countries, our national debt level might not have risen to such profound levels.

    July 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      Wow...somebody is paying attention. Run for office pal. I'll vote for you...

      July 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  5. iamnotaneoconidiot

    OK call me dumb. I just don't understand how it can be said that the US Treasury "owns" US Treasury debt. That sounds like saying I have my money in my right pocket and now I put it in my left pocket. Someone please explain........................

    July 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      And there you have a perfect example of why this nation is in trouble. None of those genius lawyers in Congress can count!

      July 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Reply
    • reader

      Because this article has an error. It should say Federal Reserve, not US Treasury. You are correct the Treasury can't buy its own debt.

      July 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Reply
      • desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

        "It is widely understood that the renminbi exchange rate is not the cause of China-U.S. trade imbalances." Ma said. I respond: ma che cosa tu dici! Also spracht Politburo! Not those who understand! The low renminbi exchange is not the cause of China trade imbalances. It is the cause of the imbalances in the rest of the world. That means that theproblem for the world is China's low exchange rate for the renminbi! China cannot be allowed to bankrupt the rest of the world ... without firing a shot!
        .

        October 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Calc

    I must have missed something, but when i added up the percentages given I only got 75.5%, which means 24.5% is still missing. Also the debt owed figures only add up to about $10.8 trillion not $14.5 trillion. I am not sure what the source of the article is, but they should check their math.

    July 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • Benc

      Yup I did the same math – ridiculous! goes to show you can trust (or not).. what a load of rubbish

      July 25, 2011 at 10:14 am | Reply
  7. Me

    Corporations own America.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  8. STOP PRESS

    CNN – stop the comments section of your news. Hatred and Radicalism will develop thru CNN portal, and we may have a terrorist given birth by CNN

    July 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • smokey

      Perhaps you could reply to the egregious comments instead of calling for silencing of us all? Though, I do relate.... I wipe my a$$ with the first amendment also.

      July 22, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      I demand to know who the father is! He needs to help raise the child he and CNN created...

      July 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Reply
  9. acpie

    This article is better written:
    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/01/is-china-really-funding-the-us-debt/

    July 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  10. WOW!

    Wow! One troll comments and the racists come out of the woodwork! Nice!

    July 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  11. Abe

    The numbers above only add to 10.8 trillion and the percents add to 75.5%. Were are the rest of the numbers?

    July 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      Mars?

      July 22, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Reply
  12. Harley2010

    It is a good thing we have math. By my count it you have accounted for $10.3 billion or 75.5% of our debt. Who owns the other 24.5%? That leaves a pretty large hole in your analysis.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • Harley2010

      Thats trillion not billion.

      July 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  13. DarTexas

    Man this article is full of it. Just what I expected probably cuz Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn were probably telling the guy what to write. JEWS own america don't ever forget that! They own cnn and most importantly they own our economy. Bernanke is the guy that prints the money but because of lack of good education in this country most ppl turn to this website because they think they are gonna find all the worlds answers. And no i'm not jewish.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
    • Leroy

      Where do you come up with this nonsense? I think the mirror is reflexing back to you that you wish you were jewish

      January 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  14. truthsayer2

    On, thank you CNN. I feel much better knowing that foreign interests own ONLY 1/3 of our national debt.

    July 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Reply
    • Patty

      Ya, wasn't that nice of them to report that we'll never see 9.8 trillion dollars returned to the US and all it's citizens? That is such a comforting thought...now why do they keep stating the entire amount owed, when they know perfectly well they will never repay any of these debts back to the US programs they stole it from?????

      July 25, 2011 at 8:41 am | Reply
  15. Ram

    "We regard cow as mother only because she gives you her milk to drink after your mother stopped giving you milk to drink ! "
    WHAT AN ARGUMENT! This shows that most Indians are ignorant and stupid morons!
    Just say that your religion tells you to worship cows and rats and monkeys.

    July 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      umm...here in America we worship money.what's the diff?

      July 22, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
    • Dan Schultz

      No more talking! That's your brand new rule 😀

      July 29, 2011 at 11:49 am | Reply
  16. Mike in Montana

    What ! The U.S. owns Social Security trust fund $2.67 trillion dollars of our own money. And their (congress) talking about NOT paying Social Security recipients, who have paid into Social Security the majority of their whole life, no check on August 3rd.. What a minute.., your telling me, that baby-boomers, senior citizens, retired individuals, disabled, veterans, middle-class americans, members of AARP and the poor are not or may not receive their Social Security checks on Augst 3rd.., because the United States Congress borrowed money in the amount of $2.67 trillion dollars and these poor souls will NOT be able to pay their mortgage or rent, utilities, bills, debts and simply trying to put food on the table for themselves or their family with children. There's something wrong with this picture.. If they are NOT paid on Augst 3rd.., who's going to pay for the 'late charge fees' for being late in paying their bills and who is going to fix their 'credit rating', that will be hurt and damaged. Will President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia pay their late charge fees and fix their credit rating that will surely drop.., I doubt it. So.., Social Security recipients are going to get it, both ways. What a way to bend over and get it, were it hurts the most.., their own pocket book and not being able to pay the rent, bills or put food on the table for their family and children. We certainly have a great House of Representatives, Senate and President. I think.., we voted in the wrong people on both sides. Work your whole life for retirement and Social Security and in the end.., nothing. The rich get richer and the poorer get poorer.., thank you Mr. President, John and of course the most disliked man in congress Eric Cantor. Mike in Montana

    July 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  17. ketrout

    After reading this I think that it is time to pay America back and to put a stop to borrowing money from foreign governments. We need to have a BALANCED BUDGET NOW!!!

    OBAMA has put us deeper in debt than any other president! It is time to get rid of Obama and his administration, along with everyone in Congress, and get some FRESH blood, with fresh ideas t get us out of the mess that Obama has put us in.

    If we, the American public have to live within our means, then I expect our government do the same!!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

      NO YOU CAN THANK THE GOP FOR PUTTIN US IN DEBT OBAMA IS GRABBING THAT SHOVEL AND TRYIN TO DIG US OUT THE HOLE BUSH AND WALL STREET PUT US IN

      July 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
      • Beel

        he needs to stop digging – we are in deep enough I think

        July 22, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Gethetruth

      @Trout you are a typical Republican with no ability to analyse or think. If a repulican president was it Office now you would not be even reading these columns and the situation would have been a lot worse. You forget that Clinton left 3 trillion surplus, Bush spent it all and put us in the red for another 10 trilion. The Gang of four (Bush, Dick, Cheny, Paul. W) is resposible for most of it, but labor unions and the lawyers also contibuted for much of the manufacturing to move to China. So much of America wealth in IP and manufacturing technology went to China and they paid nothing for it.

      The US can pay any amout of debt because it can print $$$ and write of its own debts. Its stupid to argue about who owns the US.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Reply
    • GCV

      The fundamental problem is that we Americans do not live within our means. We buy cheap foreign goods, but make nothing in return. Paying for those cheap goods depletes our money supply. The money supply is replenished by borrowing more money. Ideally, the consumer would do the borrowing, but after a decade of excess borrowing, th consumer's debt is way way too high. So now the job of borrowing, to replenish our money supply, falls to the government. That is why the government spends stimulus money and why the Fed has programs like the QE2 – to create debt and thereby add money back into the system. Without that money, our economy would collapse.

      There is only one solution to this mess – and it isn't balancing the budget. The fix is to make stuff that the rest of the world would want to buy from us. They only thing we have to sell the rest of the world right now is debt.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  18. SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

    LOL BET INDIA DNT THINK THE WORLD IS COMMING TO AN END LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THE PROBLEM WITH AMERICA IS THEY CANNOT FACE THE FACT THAT THE BIG MAN THEY PUT IN OFFICE FROM 2000 TO 2008 WRECKED THIS COUNTRY,AND NOW YOU INVITED THE TEA PARTY TO THE OFFICE BECAUSE AMERICANS ARE BLINDED BY HATE!!! BE HONEST WHY DID MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE VOTE FOR THE TEA PARTY ,NOT BECAUSE THEY HAD GREAT POLITICAL VIEWS BUT BECAUSE THEY WENT AGAINST OBAMA LMAO!!!!!OH GOD BLESS AMERICA LOL!!!! THEY WOULD RATHER CUT FUNDING FOR SCHOOLS THEN TAX THE BIG COMPANIES THAT TOOK OUR JOBS OVER SEAS SO I ASK THIS WHAT EVER HAPPEN TO"COUNTRY FIRST"?LETS BE HONEST THE WARS SENT US INTO THE PITS OF HELL WHEN IT COMES TO MONEY THANK YOU REPUBLICANS U GET A APPLAUD! NEXT LETTING OUR JOBS GO OVER SEAS AND NOT KEEPING EVERYTHING DOMESTIC FROM AGRICULTURE TO AMERICAN MADE CARS TSK TSK!!!! NOT TAPPING ARE OWN OIL AND IMPORTING IT SUCH A SAD CASE DNT YA THINK!!!OH AND LETTING IN ALL THE IMMIGRANTS LMAO!!! ASK YA SELF DO YOU SEE ANY OTHER COUNTRY WITH MORE IMMIGRANTS THAN AMERICA?HMMMM DNT THINK SO AMERICA HUNG THEMSELVES CHASING A DOLLAR AND A DREAM NOW IT'S TIME FOR US TO HUNKER DOWN AND TAKE THIS ASS WHOOPIN!!!THANK YOU GOP YOU ARE SADLY APPRECIATED!!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • Beel

      you must be very lonely confined to that little closet in the attic...don't forget to take you meds troll boy

      July 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Reply
    • gremlinus

      Either you've never been to America or you live here and you live in your mom's basement. Either way, get a clue. Most Americans don't think this way. If you remember, Bush LOST the popular election, which means a majority of people actually DIDN'T vote for him. And that's more validity than your post deserves.

      July 23, 2011 at 1:06 am | Reply
  19. RM

    Let's see.....Hmmmm.....ISRAEL????!!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  20. jack h

    why does it seem like washington dc, is owned and controled by israel? why have american troops been fighting and dieing in israeli false flag wars for the last 20 years? why does everyone in washington fear saying anything negative about israel?. because america owes it's national debt to the federal reserve bank which is owned by the jewish/zionist central banks of europe. america will never be free of debt or war until we close this den of thieves and vipers because war only puts us deeper into debt. a vicious cirle we cannot escape. and everyone in washington dc knows that to challenge the fed will result in their death. one reason why ron paul will never be nominated by the republicans for president. the will nominate mitt romney, george bush in disguise. but how has obama done? obama added 3 more wars, somalia, yeman, and libya.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • Gethetruth

      Obama did not add wars, Somalia was on going; the US is hardy involve in Libya and Yemen is a terrorist state and US is not spending any there either. As for US debts, its a lot of politics to get votes. The US can pay any debt because it can print money, so can any country that can print its own money.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • JLS639

      It seems like Washington is controlled by Israel because you have a distorted view of reality. Israel is an ally and is therefore favored by Washington over non-allies like Jordan or Hamas. People in Washington do say bad things about Israel. I have heard many complaints by pro-Israel folks about it. Israel does not control the Federal Reserve. That is your delusion. The Federal Reserve acts in a predictably moneterist fashion and has for decades.

      July 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Reply
    • gremlinus

      Yes, because Mormons are sooooo in with the Jews. Please, they aren't even in with the Christians. At least Romney has business sense. Bush tanked every business he was put in charge of. As a democrat, Romney scares me less than Bush ever did (but I'm still not voting for him.)

      July 23, 2011 at 1:08 am | Reply
    • NonZionist

      What delicious irony! Our politicians have thrown the successful philosophy of our founders out the window and now grovel at the feet of a failed fascist regime!

      Every year our politicians march off to AIPAC to declare their "Absolute" and "Unconditional" fealty to the Israeli regime, a regime spawned by terrorists and based on ethnic supremacy.

      "Unconditional" means that the demands of the foreign regime override all other considerations - morality, justice, American principles, American interests.

      Forgetting that America once stood for freedom and equal rights, our politicians give billions each year to a regime that keeps millions of people under perpetual occupation and bombardment while using alleged genetic background as the basis for determining rights, a regime that has killed dozens of Americans, a regime that tried to sink one of our warships, a regime that is responsible for the worst spy in U.S. history, a regime that sells our military secrets to our adversaries. This is the regime that our politicians worship!

      Why?! Why would they abandon Americanism, a philosophy with a track record of success and brilliance, and sell their souls to a rogue regime with a morally bankrupt ideology of ethnic division?

      "Sell" is the operative word. Our politicians fund Israel, and, in return, Israel, through AIPAC, funds our politicians. What a cozy kickback scheme!

      Of course, we are not allowed to call it that: Israel might be offended! Here in a country founded on freedom of speech, a foreign power now determines what our public figures are allowed to say.

      July 23, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  21. Mike

    "The U.S. Treasury: $1.63 trillion (11.3 percent)"- That is the Federal Reserve that owns 1.63 trillion of the debt not the treasury department, big difference. The Federal Reserve is a cartel of private banks that can print money out of thin air then buy our debt with it.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  22. gummyballz

    simple math, if the Federal Reserve is responsible for printing and placing value said money, and they loan, say 100$ at 7% how much money is needed to pay back the debit? 107? ok so if the federal reserve prints the money, where do I get the 7$ to pay back the interest? Didnt we rebel against England in part due to freeing ourselves from a central bank? the other part being taxation without representation, which is ironic when you think about it, nearly all of our federal tax dollars go to pay our interest to the federal reserve. can we say New World Order?

    July 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  23. Angel

    You have the math? Add up the percentage points above and you've only listed 75.5% of the debt. So who owns the other 24.5% ??? And then there's the other question nobody even thinks to ask. To find out who owns America you have to ask more than just who owns the debt. That's just one side of the ledger. What about the other side? Does America have a debit balance or a credit balance? You can't judge the financial health of a corporation by looking at only one side of the ledger, or by just looking at their corporate budget now can you? So why does anyone believe that the Federal budget and Federal debt are all there is to the American financial picture? Isn't there something else missing in this picture? Yeah! 50% of the books are missing besides the missing 24% from your list! Just Google "The Biggest Game In Town" if you want to know where to find the other side of the ledger that no one ever talks about.

    July 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  24. Coli

    Cow's milk is for baby cows. Human mother's breast milk is for human babies. Goat milk is for baby goats. And so on and so forth. After a baby grows, they should stop drinking such milk. They shouldn't start drinking the milk of another! Think about it, it is disgusting. BE VEGAN!!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  25. Jesseca5

    Who else but George Soros...

    July 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  26. jack johnson

    So why do the repb. say social security is brok?. They borrowed 2.67 trillion, and now they want to cut S.S.

    July 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  27. OceanLight

    At this point, can USA issue a Year of Jubilee, a cancellation of all debts internally and externally? What happens then? No one is starving in USA, you know. Will the rich and Chinese people be in trouble and get upset? What's the value of money to a human being?

    July 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Reply
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