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

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    This article says China does own us. If I am in debt to myself that doesn't matter at all to someone else I'm in debt to. C

    February 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Reply
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    July 21, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Reply
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  13. Jason

    Only one problem. You only show 75.5 per cent of the debt.............. who has the other 24.5%

    October 15, 2013 at 9:33 am | Reply
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  16. lichtentunes

    Nice article! But it leaves me with a nagging question.
    I added up all of the listed owners of US debt, and it only came to 65%.
    Who owns the other 35%?

    October 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Reply

    I'm confused.. This means..we are broke??? Now I'm sad..we are really broke..Damn, now I know why we have so many crazy people in this country....poor but they all wanted to look rich...owe money to everyone but they drive a luxurious cars..and most of them live out of the welfare..This country is in deep s***t

    November 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Reply

    The US people owe most of this money? To whom?? I have never asked for any credit why should I pay for something the us government is taking advantage of?? They are the ones who are filling their packets....

    November 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • redjon

      So... You're okay with the things our government spends money on, 42% of which is defense-related by the way; just not having to actually pay for it. Do you also think the government should be run like a household?

      First, government isn't a household. Second, few households, at least ones with mortgages, are in debt for less than 200% of their annual income.

      What it comes down to is that, "tax and spend," has become such an ugly slur that, the American people instead elect representatives who borrow and spend.

      The good news is that, our credit is still good. If it wasn't we might need to actually cut back AND pay our way.

      December 10, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Reply
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