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. estelle

    The IMF and the Zionists OWN the US...

    July 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  2. rock cliff

    Hey, the numbers above sum to 75.5%. That's a pretty big margin of error. Where's the rest?

    July 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  3. IndiaForeverRocks

    India is the SUPREME POWER OF EARTH. WE ARE OPTIMUS PRIME. Do not EVER mess with INDIA. We have smartest people on the planet , most beautiful women and BEST CURRY EVER COOKED. WE OWN USA.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  4. whitefox

    Wake up, America. Your country (your land and your people) is being exploited by the banks, the gov't, and the big companies of the worlds. Not only that, they also sell you off to other countries. They borrow loads of money and now YOU and your children have to pay them back. They've misled you to fight wars for their own benefit. Open your eyes right now. Search for "war is a racket". It's written by one of the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. It will show you the REAL TRUTH behind wars. Please read it now, and have your children read it, too.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Reply
  5. Bill Wood

    Interesting, the US Treasury owns over $1.6 Trillion in US Debt. This is money that the government owes to itself. Seems then the fastest way to solve a huge chuck (11%) of our debt problem is for the government to forgive the money it owes to itself. There is ZERO reason for the US Treasury to be making interest off of money that it owes to itself. So forgive the $1.6 Trillion, and we would not need to cut near as much ... and can stil avoid a default, without the need to raise taxes.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  6. Don Stimpson

    Every time I see this tally sheet it reminds me of the of movie Dumb & Dumber where they spend all the money from the briefcase: “What is this? Where's all the money? Lloyd: That's as good as money, sir. Those are I.O.U.'s. Go ahead and add it up, every cent's accounted for.”

    July 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  7. teebs

    Why doesn't america have a fire sale? Put up some states for sale? Maybe this Sunday, there will be a garage sale and some states will be discounted for cold hard cash by some strong countries like Canada and Mexico.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Reply
  8. Conway193

    This article simply prove that figures can't lie, but liars sure can figure.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  9. Alan

    Where are the Federal Reserve's holdings in this list?

    July 25, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  10. Alissa

    The Best opportunity to permeate a new market totally FREE. Export-to-cn is a global free trading platform designed to support and assist companies participating in China market through the internet to engage new markets, find the suitablt partner and attract investment.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Reply
  11. David Rochlin

    The total of debt percentages given, does not add up to 100% It would have been nice to see where the rest was, even if for simplicity's sake, the smaller holders have to be included as groups, like Asian Dragons, etc.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:36 am | Reply
  12. Rotter

    Tossers is what you all are.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:23 am | Reply
  13. Bif

    USA economy supports the whole world. When is the last time anybody watched a movie from china, or listened to a song from india? The whole world is watching everything we do and trying to say we are fat lazy and stupid but we still run the world

    July 26, 2011 at 1:52 am | Reply
    • Nixon

      tick tick tick....................................

      July 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  14. Lydia

    This is old news. Buffet said invest in India a year ago at least. Catch up fellas.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:55 am | Reply
  15. bearmstro

    Is this article supposed to make anyone feel better about our debt? Because if it is, you'll have to do a lot better than that.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:00 am | Reply
  16. GoldDigger

    I bet this guy is a Pakistani troll. He talking absolute nonsense. Trying his best to screw the Indo-US friendship. Or perhaps, worse, seeking cheap publicity.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:02 am | Reply
  17. Aloha Bobby

    All that is being accomplished now in Washington is the driving of investment money into gold and the Swiss franc.

    As I have watched the economic crisis unfold (and unfold some more) I cast about for something to do with my money. People kept saying "gold." But I stayed skeptical for a long time.

    Like most people in our generation, I am an avid reader of the news and GOLD as a hedge kept popping up as a topic in relation to the uncertainty in Washington, Wall Street, Europe.

    But the only kind of "hedge" I knew was the kind that went around the yard.

    So, I asked an older friend of mine (near 80 at the time and a Wall Street maven his whole life – old school). When he said "gold may be the only answer right now," it finally persuaded me to dabble. But I was really just a dabbler. Nothing more. That, however, changed.

    I won't give you a rags-to-riches routine, because a) I wasn't wearing rags and b) the returns have been delightful, but I haven't won the lottery or anything like that.

    What I learned is that the trick is staying on the right side of the gold behemoth. Long or short.

    There is so much money to be made whether gold is on the uptick or down-tick. Just have to know when to get in and get out. The "how" is, as always, the sticking point.

    For what seemed like the longest while, I was in the gold markets but not really OF them. I didn't get the whole dynamic.

    Like everyone else, I was skeptical of ANY forecaster: how can anyone figure this out?

    But Gary Wagner of the Gold Forecast is shockingly accurate. It is truly uncanny. So, I am recommending him and his small, stellar company. http://tinyurl.com/3wvd2mz

    July 26, 2011 at 7:00 am | Reply
  18. Daniel

    Gee, my money would have been on Israel.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:16 am | Reply
  19. justsaying

    It is a good thing we have math. Where is the rest of the debt? These numbers do not add up to 100% (not even close).

    July 26, 2011 at 8:43 am | Reply
  20. Bob

    I think you're missing the point here. If America defaults on it's loan to China and they decide they want the money back – American is going to have to borrow from somewhere else, because it sure can't afford it – so they scrounge and beg and cut costs which will normally mean education cuts and local government cuts which will be ok because the streets will need cleaning and the US will be producing street cleaners from its schools. No more pay raises, but the price of goods will go up so companies can cover the ever increasing overheads. More unemployed people foreclosing on their homes fighting for jobs.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:19 am | Reply
  21. indebunker

    And who owns the IMFand the World Bank? These stats are misleading and anyway anything that comes out of CNN is usally some form of manipulated media program to glorify the position of the capitalist marketeers. The Indians here in the states, come here and act like little dictators. They have been extremely rascist to my afro-american friends and treat the mexicans like they would someone from a lower caste, as if they were gods gift to the authoritarian world. I've had more than a few run ins with them because of their arrogant nasty behavior, in which case they quickly back down. Quite frankly, I've never had a positive experience with any of them.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:23 am | Reply
  22. MoreAboutSS

    Um, one major concern here that should have been mentioned in the article. Because of the retiring baby boomers, Social Security payouts now exceed collections so now social security has to start redeeming those US government securities, which means that debt has to be sold to someone else. So while China may not be the biggest debt holder, it will be unless congress acts to restore the solvency of social security. That can be done by cutting benefits and/or increasing social security tax rate. Both very popular ideas with the mainstream public...no?

    July 26, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
  23. Zionist

    NonZionist is WRONG. Very little American aid goes to Israel. The Palestinians and other enemies of our country receive substantial American aid. Here in America, tons of people are on welfare, and a lot of that goes to people who aren't even citizens. Let's not forget the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, costing the country hundreds of billions of dollars. Israel had NOTHING to do with any of this!! Israel is our ally, and we should indeed help each other. I find it amusing how "nonzionists" fault Israel for everything, the way our enemies fault America for eveyrthing. I shudder to think how our nation is morphing into a confederacy of hatred.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:27 am | Reply
  24. MB

    Wow! I had no idea....That is amazing. When you put data out there it sure makes you change some long standing views.

    I'm not sure if it's accurate but if it is then every news station in America should post that TONIGHT!

    We could pay off all those 1% countries and get all our overseas debt gone in a few years. It makes it more like a personal budget. Get the little stuff gone then work on the big stuff....mainly OURSELVES.

    Best article I've read in a long time.

    Put it on CNN tonight.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:37 am | Reply
  25. Larry

    If we own most of the debt, then why have we mortgaged off over 40 of our National Parks? (btw, Bush II started that, Obama only continued it...). Anyway you look at it, we are in serious financial sh.... as a Country!

    July 26, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
  26. Ralph Wiggham

    As the article leads with "But it's a good thing we have math.", it is interesting that the percentages don't add up to 100%. Who owns the missing 25%?

    July 26, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
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