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. OceanLight

    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 11:16 pm | Reply
  2. OceanLight

    CNN, why can't I post here? Didn't I keep the manner?

    July 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  3. Vishnu sucks

    Why do indian households smell the pits of vishnu?

    July 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  4. eded


    July 22, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  5. Richard Larson

    Fascinating!! What I want to know is what the Congress is going to do to pay down the debt to Social Security and the millions who do hope to receive promised benefits. It seems to me that the politicians are lying to those who are now receiving Social Security and to those who hope to receive it in the near term and mid term future. They claim that they will have to require recipients to wait a couple more years so they can avoid paying what they honestly owe to those who have, and are paying into the Trust Fund and then claiming that they cannot be certain that the fund will be solvent after 2025 or thereabouts. This is a huge crock of crap. They, the pols know it. They really want to take that money so they can continue to cut taxes and still be able to continue the lying while they bankrupt the nation in the furtherance of their own aims to reduce the size of the Central Government to the point where it will be overwhelmed by the political power of the states. It appears to me that what the Republicans and Tea Party radicals really want is a continent with Canada and Mexico being the major powers and a Confederation of 50 states that will spend eternity arguing amongst themselves over what they are going to permit private citizens to do, but will be powerless to defend itself. I for one do not want to live in such a place.

    July 23, 2011 at 12:16 am | Reply
  6. Chaka Chuka

    Let us print more money, $13 Trillion of it. That way we can pay off the US debt and be in good credit standing. We own the dollar presses don't we, then we can print as much money as we want. Screw the rest of the world.

    July 23, 2011 at 12:25 am | Reply
    • lalonde

      wouldnt that cause inflation?

      January 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  7. More Info Plz

    We keep hearing about how much debt the US owes other countries but how much debt do other countries owe us? When we get that information, then the debt will be more accurate. (Of course we'll never get that information, will we?)

    July 23, 2011 at 12:26 am | Reply
  8. yepper

    The gulf wars were left out??????hellooooo

    July 23, 2011 at 1:27 am | Reply
  9. Wise guy


    July 23, 2011 at 1:47 am | Reply
  10. Wise guy


    July 23, 2011 at 1:48 am | Reply
  11. Hi

    I like it how people have nothing better to do than argue/bash other countries for the sake of their own happiness...pretty pathetic world we live in. GROW UP IDIOTS!

    July 23, 2011 at 2:05 am | Reply
  12. Annonymous

    Actually... God owns America. America owns nothing. He provided us with America, yet we disgrace him and don't appreciate or thank him for what he's given us. That is why we are in debt. That is why false Christianity, war, then famine, and then pestilence will come. Things will get much much worse. If we were to thank God for his great gift, this would all be prevented, however America won't. We now cannot do anything about other countries pointing and laughing at us, because we aren't "powerful" enough anymore to do so. God has taken our pride away, and he will not give it back, ever! We have been blinded by so many "prophecy experts" such as Nostradamus, or even your local pastor at church. Over the many years of human dominance on Earth, ideas and human interpretation have been created. Jesus' disciples came to him while he sat on the Mount of Olives. "Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3) Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am Christ,' and will deceive many." (Matthew 24:4-5) War is right around the corner. Many countries are considered nuclear countries. "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom." (Matthew 24:6-7) Famine ALWAYS follows war. Famine is also all over the world. With the American economy and country about to collapse to a third world country, we will not be able to support other countries because we won't even be able to support ourselves. "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the BEGINNING of birth pains (beginning of the worst to come)" (Matthew 24:7-8). We are running out of food an water as well. We were once called the "Bread Basket". Larry Matlack, President of the American Agricultural Movement (AAM), explained that the entire USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) inventory would be reduced to 2.7 million bushels of wheat – roughly enough to make only one-half loaf of bread for each person in the US! (Tri-State Observer). Pestilence (disease) always follows famine. Many diseases have sprouted up and are IMMUNE to ALL kinds of antibiotics. One example of this is the new skin virus called MRSA (mersa). Many old diseases such as tuberculosis is returning from what was thought of as "extinct". Now diseases are strong enough to withstand antibiotics. Diseases sprouting up today (new and old), are much more powerful and dangerous than old diseases. Many people will be very angry with this post, however this is why we have these problems. We do not own America, nor does any nation or kingdom of this Earth. God owns America, and he WILL take it away just as quickly and easily as he GAVE it to us!

    July 23, 2011 at 2:05 am | Reply
    • MaMarie

      Well said and I agree.

      July 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
    • Stephanie

      Barf..you are why I dont respect most Christians...this kind of thing..really? we are talking debt here NOT religion

      October 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  13. Hi

    ....get a life people. If you want to argue and act like you know what you're talking about, join the debate team.

    July 23, 2011 at 2:25 am | Reply
  14. Indian_1

    All you haters must be looser who can't get their priorities straight and not get educated. When will 'you people' (conventional white & black) wake up? Us Asians are taking over higher paying jobs and all is left for 'you people' is flip burgers.
    DON"T Hate the player, hate the game – looser.
    The facts is Americans love America but Americans hate each other. I was born and raised in India and moved to the United States. I have seen your pathetic lousy education system (KG to 12) where students are more interested in football/cheer leading/ cooking class etc.
    There are two subjects called Mathematics and Science. If you haven't taken then don't bother and do your lazy bums a favor and convince your children to taken these subjects. lol
    I have pity for you losers

    July 23, 2011 at 3:47 am | Reply
    • jim

      You are a example of a sick Indian in usa.. People like you can come back to country..yoU HAVE Become home sick..
      Do you think usa education is patehtic..If its so patetic then why will all Indian elite come to study in Usa..?? So dont try to fool people. Some times beggars recive money and they think they recived a lot of money ..I have seen many indians like this ..There are again a lot of good indians in usa.. But some like you are really sick..

      October 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  15. Karl

    So, as we've been warned, the gov't has raided Social Security coffers for operating revenue-now that the bill is due the Republicans want to "wish" the debt owed to Social Security away.

    July 23, 2011 at 4:12 am | Reply
  16. jimmy

    The FBI and DEA fabricate evidence, steal from suspects and use murder to close their bad cases.
    The FBI and DEA harrass suspects for many years and to the extent that they intentionally create their own terrorists and criminals when evidence shows that the suspect was never involved in their alleged original crime.

    July 23, 2011 at 6:58 am | Reply
  17. Jay Oint

    After reading the first few comments I felt bad for India... But you know the one thing I can say for sure about the BRIC countries... we still have enough nukes to get em all.

    July 23, 2011 at 7:02 am | Reply
  18. wendy5

    good then you dont need all the american outsource customer service jobs; nothing irratetes me more then calling bell canada becuase phones are done and ending up in india and having to deal with some smart ass; or calling dell for tech support and you cant understand a word they say; so thats why after 20 years of beinga bell customer dropped them and turfed the dell dude

    July 23, 2011 at 7:13 am | Reply
  19. Paul

    So much hate around here... For the Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, other Americans. You know that if we met in person, we would all probably like each other. if we got to know one another we would probably call eash other friend.

    And by the way, who cares who is best, who has what problems... We ALL have issues.

    July 23, 2011 at 8:09 am | Reply
  20. wmd67

    Saudi owns a majority of US, they just listed the debts..

    July 23, 2011 at 10:39 am | Reply
  21. CharlieSeattle

    India is a hot, humid, over populated cesspool of humanity. You can keep it.

    July 23, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
  22. Rick McDaniel

    The truth is.......that SS would be just fine, if the fund wasn't loaning billions to Obama to squander away on worthless programs.

    July 23, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  23. Mike Smith

    Chinese human rights abuses:




    July 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • 2


      August 15, 2011 at 4:43 am | Reply
  24. wwsd

    Well now we know how much money our government has stolen from the Social Security trust fund: $2.67 trillion

    July 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Reply
  25. Chaxy

    Certainly, India is behind China in terms of development. But the development of China is like any other product they manufacture – cheap copies of other products; This is not sustainable and one flick will bring the whole pack of cards down...it is driven by the top...you are right, India has the worst government, pretty bad and archaic caste systems, and a huge population of slumdogs...we are growing at a very healthy 8 to 10% every year inspite of all the possible faults you could point out. This is sustainable – we are bottom up growth model. Our financial system for all its faults is pretty stable than most economies...take the oil crises, or the Asian crisis or the recent recession – India escaped virtually unscathed. and believe me it will continue. If the American is anything like a strategic thinker you would not worry about China now, but start thinking of how to really engage India – because you do not know if your children will get anything from China, but will thrive because of India....Jai Hind

    July 24, 2011 at 12:24 am | Reply
  26. FeiYe

    I am looking for a foreigner friend,I teach you Chinese,you teach me English

    July 24, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply

      I'll take you up on the offer would like to learn Chinese from a native speaker !

      August 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  27. FeiYe


    July 24, 2011 at 8:12 am | Reply
    • 2


      August 15, 2011 at 4:48 am | Reply
  28. Totoro0101

    Well you have accounted for 72%, what about the other 28%?

    July 24, 2011 at 8:19 am | Reply
  29. Bianca

    Enjoyed the discussion with the Foreign Minister of Morocco, but I was sorry that you did not mention the situation of Western Sahara, a reluctant possession of Morocco.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:37 am | Reply
    • Jarred

      I, too, am sad that Western Sahara was not mentioned. They have a right to independence from Morocco.

      November 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  30. DD

    Many people commented about Toilets In India. But we have the best practice of toilet training, like washing the Anus with water, which is a hygiene practice rather than using toilet paper. In US, the poverty ratio is higher than the india ratio. Claimed to be Super power but failed to remove the poverty in America, also heath care system and so many which are not available to lower income people. Noon meal system was copied from indian system.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:08 am | Reply
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