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. Loop Garoo

    Including intragovernmental holdings (the social security trust fund, U.S. Treasury) is silly, since the concept of the government owing itself money is just a bookkeeping construct. An IOU written to yourself is neither an asset nor a liability.

    July 26, 2011 at 11:25 am | Reply
  2. MileHighCitizen

    The United States of America belongs to the citizens of The United State of America.

    The government has squandered, and continues to squander, TAX funds collected from the people.
    The debt is owed to us.

    Time to sue the FED for abuse of a position of trust.
    I trust my tax money is spent on improving the country but it seems to be falling into deep pockets of politicians and lobbyists.


    July 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • "We're like rats in a cage"

      Here, here!!!

      Can we start by adjusting their salaries? I mean seriously... $400,000 + $50,000(for expenses)/yr?! AND... not only that but a continued salary and medical after their term is over? @ how long have we been supporting them?? adds up, just sayin..

      August 24, 2011 at 9:07 am | Reply
  3. savoy7

    Its the hard working people right here that post all these comments, that's who owns America

    July 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  4. Bob

    You people are missing the point of the article. Its that Americans have too much debt majority of which is owned by Americans. It has nothing to do with India or China. Instead of fixing our economy, politicians and the media keep conjuring up the boogeymen of the east, India and China, and scaring us with stories of a Chinese take over and being forced into slavery. In the meantime, India and China continue growing and outpacing us in education.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  5. Timur The Lane

    "For all these a million reasons, submit to your fate under our Hindu colossus, beg our 5-rupee meal middle classes, bow to our super powers.

    Jai Hind!"

    The above is the reason why so many hate and say so about India. Unfortunately there are many like this one in the world, so would you bother yourself trying to comprehend insanity and immorality among our little friends?
    At the same time, having had lived for couple dozens of years here, I find Indians among the most tolerant and hard working, very beautiful (girls), and I love, among many other things from India – my favourite Mota Set. I swear I'd give up any food for this one, it's just the best food out there.
    Indians, are just another large part of humanity, and if they achieve something and are proud of it, I personally admire and support them, even share their pride deep inside me somehow.
    I feel sad when Indians call Pakistanian as Paki, Puki, etc., because they are essentially same people. Aslo these events in Pakistan nowadays lives little hope for war-less forseeable future, not to mention nukes in the hands of so "religious" gentlemen in Pakistan.
    There is one more thing I'd like to mention, it's the way Indian folks walk in the street; they always tend to push you off to the left on the sidewalk. I was only recently able to realize it was ah inheritance from Britons who drive and walk unlike the rest of the world.
    One would have to live and try to survive in India in order to comprehend why and what that creature stated above. Apart from all this, they are fine human beings, perhaps the most quiet ones I've seen this far.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  6. paxton

    Seriously is there a single cent in the "Social Security Trust Fund"?

    July 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  7. Jason

    Wow – clearly lots of the greatest American minds on this comment board. And people wonder why our elected representatives call each other names instead of present ideas and solutions, and why we as a people have a growing reputation as bullies, anti-intellectuals, and blowhards. The answers are all here in these lovely thoughtful and respectful, and not to mention well-written comments. -sigh-

    July 26, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  8. VConnor

    Bit of a problem with your math and attribution. One cannot borrow money from yourself. When individuals do it, we call it fraud. We governments do it, we call it printing money. Your totals include 30.3% owned by the "US Treasury" and "Social Security Trust". As stated, you can't borrow money from yourself. Try loaning yourself a $1 million and see how far you can spend. There actually has to be a backer other than the borrower for there to be real money.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  9. Brandon

    It's so funny to watch you pakis and smelly chinese sit here and debate whose taking over the world next, lol. For one, your crappy societies are not built upon respect for the individual and the American (and western anglo culture really) culture, superior intelligence, etc will always win out over your slimy, corrupt and smelly countries. You have so many abuses to human rights, so much poverty, etc.LOL sometimes I woder if Chinese people realy have souls or if they are robots that only crave money.

    The world is never going back to a world hegemon. But if you did outgrow us, the US would probably just find an excuse to 'liberate' you and blow your country back into the stone age with our superior military. Stop sitting around adreaming of this day in the future when you will be on top (as if that matter for any one of you billions of insects) because you have forgotten one simple truth, AMERICANS are better than YOU.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Zwedj

      You dont deserve space on this forum which is intended for intelligent debate. P

      July 28, 2011 at 6:20 am | Reply
    • Assman

      Why do we have to separate AMERICANS from the rest of the world, why do we want to blow a country to stone age? We are all human beings, why can't we live as one?

      July 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  10. conobs

    there is good reason for the paki's and china to attempt dividing india and america...
    america and india are natural allies, while paki and china are both our natural enemies

    the day will come when america and india will have to face down the other 2
    name the only country in the last 60 years to fight china and not lose their country? India
    yep we in america want and need india on our side

    July 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
    • Nixon

      "India is very slippery" Nixon. US and India are good fellows in bed.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  11. Thomas Mc

    This is why Republicans want to kill Social Security, so they can steal that $2.7 TRILLION that Social Security has invested in the USA.

    July 26, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  12. sandocan

    why did you people come to America?

    July 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • Taiwanguy

      Yes, why did you?

      July 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  13. MileHighCitizen

    You know...
    America is "for the people."
    Virtually everyone here is a product of immigration. Why is there so much separation due to race? Dumb.
    Get along already.

    And since the FED can't seem to find a solution to the debt fiasco they created, perhaps they should open a public forum and get ideas from the people it matters to most. AMERICANS!

    July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  14. Matt C.

    "China's foreign exchange reserves increased by 197.4 billion U.S. dollars in the first three months of this year to 3.04 trillion U.S. dollars by the end of March."

    You have to factor in the trade deficit we have had since the 70s.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  15. Khan

    Focus more on USA than Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. Pull armies from all the 80 countries around the world. Focus on job creation, small housing industry, alternative energy etc and everything will get back to normal. One can live in the same great United States we used to live a decade ago. I think the biggest key is straightening THE FOREIGN POLICY and cut military spending.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  16. ScrewedAndTired

    It does not matter that we owe money to ourselves. It's even worth when you owe money to yourself. It does not even matter who owns America. It could be for the better if we did not own it, since it's just plain liability and not an asset right now. It matters that there is no money to pay back to Social Security. And the times when we could borrow are gone. We can’t emit money without screwing the economy completely. These times are gone. “The biggest game in town” – yeah… that’s it. They sucked me dry twice now… Tech bubble, Housing bubble… Now they say: you paid Social Security taxes just for fun. Damn, I’m getting tired.

    July 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  17. rick

    The real answer is that "privately owned" bank called the Federal Reserve

    July 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  18. John Lingberg

    They can't take us over till they take our guns. We will not let that happen. He who controls the Printing Press. Can just print more money. Go figure. Its not worth the paper its printed on. It cost more to print than its worth. Go Figure. Inflation.
    Bring back the Barter System.

    July 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Reply
    • MileHighCitizen

      Bring back the Barter System.

      😀 I've been saying that for years! Kudos!

      July 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Reply
    • Nagasaki

      This week special: Press on sale. Anyone?

      July 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  19. buctootim

    There is a reason that in the British Empire the Chinese were brought in to run the businesses and the Indians to man the beaureacracy and provide soldiers.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:42 am | Reply
  20. ABVP

    The Jews own America.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Reply
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