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 (1,222 Responses)
  1. hailhitler

    no doubt ISRAEL owns USA, they got US by the dolls

    July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am | Reply
  2. ozman

    lol,,,,,DONT FORGET THAT INDIANS ARE THE BIGGEST CONSUMER OF COW-COLA IN WORLD,,,,,LOL,,,,,AND INDIANS ARE THE LARGEST EXPORTER OF THE MOST UGLY AND STINKIEST CREATURES ON THIS PLANET EARTH,,,INDIA ROCKS,,TATA ROCKS,,,MITTTAL ROCKS,,,,,,

    July 24, 2011 at 9:30 am | Reply
  3. Steve

    The big # in here is the Social Security trust fund owns 19% of US DEBT, and has been ROBBED of our money that we have contributed (myself over the last 31 years) and will never be paid back. Any politician that wants to steal more of our money, needs to GO!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:00 am | Reply
  4. edgy

    Here we go again...making the numbers say what we want.
    Only here is a new fiction"The SSI Trust Fund"..a complete, nonexistant only-on-paper device to screw Americans out of the only thing between millions of us and starvation.
    Go back to your TeaParty buddies with that one...don't peddle it to the public.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:12 am | Reply
  5. Durwood M. Dugger, Vero Beach, FL

    As it turns out in the reality based on actual science, it isn't our debt, our currency, or the amount of gold that nations own that will determine their survival and fate over the next 100 years. All of those things are based on human perception of value. However, perception has always been and still is a false god.

    In scientific reality all life is dependent on – not gold, but phosphorus. According to the most recent and IMO very conservative estimates the world will begin to run out of cheap available phosphate sources in about 30 years – peak phosphate. Phosphate is the most critical component of the chemical fertilizers. It's the "P" we see in the NPK fertilizer ratio on our lawn and other fertilizer bags. Turns out 95% of all human food production is dependent on peak petroleum (nitrogen from natural gas) and peak phosphate. We aren't going to experience another green revolution, we aren't even going to be able continue the first one.

    So in the real world, the nations with the most and cheapest access to phosphorus/phosphates are going to be the survivors – if any of us survive. The real lack of professional credibility of media – not to mention our political leadership is truly revealed – because you will not likely see much mention of peak phosphorus or how it will affect the lack of human food supplies. So, go ahead an worry about your children's financial futures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphate

    July 24, 2011 at 10:13 am | Reply
  6. Greg

    ALL these comments? Did ANYONE even notice that the math does not add up? All the debt listed equates to 75.5% and does NOT show Americans holding 9.8 Trillion in the debt.
    I think this is a huge example of how oblivious, vulnerable and ignorant we can be. We read many, many articles just like this and we then think we are well informed, stick our noses and heads high in an arrogant manner.
    Look at all the time and effort that is involved in the comments here yet the foundational data is wrong! I think this is also an example of how people reason and think when they vote. It's proof we are toast!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  7. Steve

    The article speaks of who owns US debt, not who owns private corporations in the U.S. or the world.

    That would be a whole new interesteing articles.

    Look at Forbes.. the richest people in the world. And be sure, some of the richest are so rich they will not even be in that list.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
  8. Steven Stoffers

    So if I write an I.O. Me for one billion dollars, I get to be on the cover of Forbes?

    July 24, 2011 at 10:43 am | Reply
  9. Steven Stoffers

    Thank for enlightening me that when the Biggest Bubble in History pops, it's not just the Chinese that get....

    July 24, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
  10. jamesa46

    In that case, could some of you genuises from China and India go teach Mexico some economics 101 so they'll stop sucking the american taxpayers dry?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
  11. Jeff in Illinois

    One glaring fallacy; you cannot owe yourself money.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:34 am | Reply
  12. RP

    FriendsofIndia is either a Paki or a Muslim.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
  13. iReader

    UM, Hong Kong IS part of China. To imply that it is a separate nation is like saying DC is separate from the USA.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  14. JC

    WHERE IS THE US TAXPAYER REALLY GOING?
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ywpfOOn7k&w=640&h=390]

    July 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Reply
  15. JC

    US COVER UP. PENTAGON MISSING TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ywpfOOn7k&w=640&h=390]

    July 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  16. FriendsofIndiaIsAPhony

    FriendsofIndia, clearly, you are a phony Paki or CCP paid scare monger inciting hate.

    Who would want to print such a weird mix of self-defeating mockery with nonsensical gloats?
    China is the USURER holding the largest amount of US DEBT. You are trying to divert attention of the american public from that fact.

    If India is doing better than before, it is because of a vibrant economy.

    1. While we might or mightn't be the largest economy in the world, a more equitable and free economy is our goal. Our 'elected' government is striving for that.
    2. And yeah, India produces able corporate leaders : http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2084441-2,00.html

    Now, that's something that cannot be copied, pirated or faked as is common in China.

    If you are a Paki, well, enough said. After the US cut aid recently, the chinese 4$$ is a gold mine for you. That explains it all.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  17. Bazoing

    Very nice collection of statistics. However, when you changed to what was "smart" I wondered. Anyone doing the exact opposite of whatever CNN money suggests would get rich!

    July 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  18. Gman

    So much hate in this board.

    No country or race can dominate the world forever. Even mighty Rome had its fall. Its a cycle and it is a good thing.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  19. SS

    Pakis hate Indians for one reason and one reason only: Most Indians are Hindus and therefore believe in many gods, something those Muslims just can't wrap their heads around or accept (thank their murderous prophet for that bit of backwardsness). However, Indians have a real reasons to hate Pakis: they're lying, treacherous murderers (something the US has realized first hand, these last few months especially). Horrible country and that is evident from the comments those trolls are posting.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  20. Tipi

    They made pretty creepy mistake: US treasury owes to FED – not to US treasury as they wrote at the second last point. Well.. what to expect from newspaper writers...

    July 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Heather

      That's no mistake, baby. It was deliberate. They'd rather not speak the name of the evil force behind all of our monetary problems - a secret society of European and Israel bankers who yank the rest of around like dogs on a chain and reap $trillions in profits.

      July 29, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  21. Durwood M. Dugger, Vero Beach, FL

    As it turns out in the reality based on actual science, it isn't our debt, our currency, or the amount of gold that nations own that will determine their survival and fate over the next 100 years. All of those things are based on human perception of value. However, perception has always been and still is a false god.

    In scientific reality all life is dependent on – not gold, but phosphorus. According to the most recent and IMO very conservative estimates the world will begin to run out of cheap available phosphate sources in about 30 years – peak phosphate. Phosphate is the most critical component of the chemical fertilizers. It's the "P" we see in the NPK fertilizer ratio on our lawn and other fertilizer bags. Turns out 95% of all human food production is dependent on peak petroleum (nitrogen from natural gas) and peak phosphate. We aren't going to experience another green revolution, we aren't even going to be able continue the first one.

    So in the real world, the nations with the most and cheapest access to phosphorus/phosphates are going to be the survivors – if any of us survive. The real lack of professional credibility of media – not to mention our political leadership is truly revealed – because you will not likely see much mention of peak phosphorus or how it will affect the lack of human food supplies. So, go ahead an worry about your children's financial futures – we really have far bigger problems than financial ones. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphate

    July 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  22. MJM

    So...this discussion has managed to drift considerably off track. Intentionally or randomly.

    Did you notice a few things about this report? 1) The percentages don't add to 100. Only 75. So...where is the other 25% of the dept?

    2) The largest holder is the "Social Security Trust Fund". Go to the Social Security site and you will see that the Trust Fund is made up of "non-marketable securities" and the cash goes to the general fund. Ahhh....that is spent...and what we have is....IOU's! So, 20% of the debt listed here...isn't real money. 3) the Treasury owns 11% of their own debt? How does that work?

    Basically, this is bogus and meant to convince us everything is OK. Why would CNN do that?

    July 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  23. FromIndia

    I am from India and my country is a can of trash. It is at best organized chaos. I do not agree with the moron: 'FriendsofIndia' who is responsible for making what I perceive as some of the most outrageous comments by anyone on CNN. Could you all please stop this polarized and abusive discussion?

    July 24, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  24. Sharp

    The so called 'Trust Fund' is composed of 'Special Issue' bonds that are NON-NEGOTIABLE. They are worthless toilet paper that congress has the right to declare null & void at any time. I would like to see them converted into standard Treasury Bills & congress forbidden to touch them. That way the fund could sell them to make payments & the legalized embezzeling would stop.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  25. Kaston

    This is scary. This is not the America I used to know. Even with all the debt, America used to take care of its own people. Now it seems that the no one cares about anyone anymore.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  26. CousinTeaParty

    Lies All lies. We the Tea Party believe that ALIENS own America. We must take it back from the ALIENS!
    Long live JESUS CHRIST and LOVE LIVE GAWD.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  27. Angel

    who owns America?

    Zakarias, for you information America in composed of over 30 different countries like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraquay, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Suriname, Guyane, Guyana, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Bahamas, Mexico, Canada just to mention some of them, these countries in the american continent hold an area of about 9,826,675 km/2 with a population of about 600 millions people tobe excluded when you referred to the united states of America as being America by it's self... so the question should be who owns the united States of America.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  28. Rod C. Venger

    Add up all those percentages and see what you come up with. I stopped at around 65% and didn't include anything past the decimal point. So...where's the other ~ 20 percent that is not accounted for?

    July 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  29. Aaron

    I added up your list of numbers here and it seems as though you have missed some info. Your chart does not add up it totals 10.814 Trillion of the 14 trillion in debt. 4 Trillion dollars is not accounted for in your list. If you add up your reported % of debt it comes to 74.6%. Why in your article did you not mention that this list was incomplete and who owns the last 4 trillion of debt? Very miss leading article if you ask me. While i do not know who owns this missing 4 trillion if it is China then china owns 5.2 trillion ( 4 trillion missing + Hong Kong Debet + china debt) and that would be 37% of US debt. Of course i do not know this because the 4 trillion is not in this article.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Reply
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