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. rufus

    The FED owns America and has for nearly 100 years. All booms and busts (and wars) are courtesy of your friendly FED, the not so federal body that has no reserves (but one heckuva a printing press).

    August 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • Jay

      Thank you. someone who's awake and paying attention.

      August 8, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Reply
  2. Zojirushi Bread Maker

    Great review, I like your site.

    Cheap Zojirushi Bread Machine

    August 4, 2011 at 11:34 am | Reply
  3. Ali

    Americans will be back on track, once the jobs are brought back to America from overseas.
    All those levers of regulations, tax & property related incentives, to attract business investment for America worker.
    There is no other option, if America wants to get out of debt, foreclosures, personal credits & jobless recoveries.
    Spending reduction due to the wars coming to conclusion will alone not solve the recurring problem of jobless recovery.
    We have Indian CEO's because they send the operations out, and save on cost, and stock holders and board of directors & vested interests inside Time magazine keep on praising them.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  4. Ali

    I seriously agree Indians own America more than Americans.
    You have a higher probability of landing a career job, if you are an Indian or know some Indian.
    Companies that mange services have Indians in the top management, and they give it out out contracts from American manufacturing to American registered Indian companies, who bring in H1B for few months for knowledge transfer, and then ship the operations out to India.
    The top Indian executives get the praise for saving on costs, and promoted to CEO's.
    This is the reason you see more Indian CEOs.
    The board of directors and stock holders are happy, and the the American public gets jobless recovery.
    This has to stop, if we want to avoid failure of dollar in international market, and falling standard of living.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  5. Johni Helohahoma

    For the REAL historical, ethical, and true record "1st Nations" what you people call Native Americans we are not native we are ORIGINAL, we OWN this land. Over 500 years of Indo-European ignorant lies about this land do not eclipse the fact that this land was occupied already and we ALL didn't come from Asia. We have been here since the beginning. Science can only lay claim to what is uncovered, not what remains unfound. We welcomed with open arms and white people responded with attempted slaughter, just lijke what you export all over the world today. You have not honored "ONE" treaty to date, such is the extent of the lack of integrity as a so-called nation. No, don't talk about ownership, you are only rude visitors to date and still have much to make up for. Turtle Island is not for sale colonists. Unapologeticly yours, Ofikabutsha

    August 4, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  6. gabriel garcia

    i think we should start renting out our arm forces to other countries. Since we are already in everbody's business.Maybe this will help to reduce our national debt.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:04 am | Reply
  7. Axis

    Yes!!! India is the greatest democracy in the world with 600 million people who don't have access to flushing toilet.
    So much for your great country

    August 6, 2011 at 7:57 am | Reply
  8. Awake

    The axis of Evil – Da Vader Rothchild Banks , Jews and the rest of the tranced ANGLO SAXON JudiaZied world. Brought to you by Disney!

    August 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      dude, get a job, lay off the sauce, and try to keep away from your wild conspiracy theories....

      clearly, you are a low life weasel. Your just jealous of jews anyhow...its shows. did a jew win the heart of your girl? or did your alcoholic daddy teach you how to hate jews and blacks.

      man, are you pathetic.

      August 14, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  9. Euan

    If you add up the numbers of Billions of Dollars owed shown as part of the US debt, the total only gets to 6514.8 Billion. Where is the other 8,000 Billion and who owes that part? Now I am not a stickler for being 100% correct in arithmetic but don't you think if you list the major holders of debt you might get closer than being in the 40% area?

    August 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  10. Dayna

    Does not make any sense, who owns the mutual funds and pension plans and why is SOCIAL SECURITY considered a DEBT to the great nation?????????????????????

    August 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Reply
    • PhillyMark

      It's convoluted, for sure, but here's how it works: The treasury is essentially a big bank with one major difference: it can print money, banks can't. Once upon a time, before Moron Reagan became president, we had this thing called the Social Security Trust Fund. This was all the money that was collected from SS taxes that hadn't yet been used to pay benefits. Enter Reagan. He and his ilk don't like Social Security and they want to use the Trust Fund nest egg to build weapons, so they combine it with the regular US Budget, instead of keeping it separate, as it was for 45 years. The SS Trust Fund money sat in the US Treasury, but was "borrowed" by Reagan. Bye bye trust fund. Keep in mind, this was money that people paid via payroll taxes to ensure they would receive benefits later in life. Now, move forward to 2009. This was the first year where benefits paid out exceeded contributions paid into SS. And where is the SS Trust Fund, which would carry the difference for 20 more years? Gone. Republicans and Tea Party liars are claiming that SS is bankrupt, as well as Medicare, even though Medicare contributions still exceed benefits. So, you see, we have been robbed by Republicans. Hopes this makes sense. Have a nice life.

      August 9, 2011 at 9:17 am | Reply
      • Observer


        August 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  11. Matt

    Looks like Uncle Sam needs a part time job to pay off his credit cards.

    August 8, 2011 at 7:53 am | Reply
  12. marky

    5+1=51 lol!!!

    August 8, 2011 at 9:28 am | Reply
  13. JON


    These people seems to be happy with cheap 2nd hand bikes and has an eagle eye of spotting the depressed and desperate people who are in need of money.

    And they can easily adapt with the local language.

    Perfect leeches I say. Hope they they take a bath and brush their teeth in very humane way.

    August 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  14. Jay

    Your total is ~73% and the Fed seems to be missing. Remember the Fed, a collection of private "banks" (of which a Chinese "bank" is now a member) which owns the biggest part of American debt? Just wondering how the Fed is not mentioned....

    August 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • PhillyMark

      It is mentioned. It's called the US Treasury. Hello?

      August 9, 2011 at 9:09 am | Reply
  15. Barley Sane

    America is owned by its citizens. We just let the media and money people and business people and stockbrokers and bean counters and law upon law upon law makers and pencil sharpeners upon paper shufflers play around with numbers and words because it fascinates them...it's nice, it keeps them occupied and obsessed because we know they aren't talented at actually making things work...except the ones who you never hear from.

    August 9, 2011 at 12:22 am | Reply
  16. Faiaz

    It's just human nature to dislike the ones that are different than you. What a shame.

    August 9, 2011 at 7:18 am | Reply
  17. Jesus is a solar messiah


    August 9, 2011 at 7:21 am | Reply
  18. Rob

    China bought our debt because they believe in us. I wouldn't buy any Chinese debt.

    August 9, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
  19. Cnfzd

    Pardon me while I refuse to sift through all the brilliant commentary made by the world's greatest minds. Perhaps it's explained elsewhere, but would you please point out how you arrived at your figures? The seventeen items you list add to ~10.814 trillion – a far cry from 14.3. Along that same line, the "American" owned debt adds to ~3.283 trillion. Where are the "missing" trillions?

    August 9, 2011 at 10:06 am | Reply
    • Dimitri

      You're right, I also arrived at only $3.3 trillion figure based on these data, rather than the stated $4.5 trillion.

      August 9, 2011 at 10:31 am | Reply
  20. brendasaller

    It seems they owe not big deal to France and Germany

    August 10, 2011 at 3:39 am | Reply
  21. Wayland

    Ron Paul 2012

    August 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  22. Wayland

    Vote Ron Paul 2012

    August 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  23. .pHAME

    we should all stop acting stupid and start helping the people that needs help!!! lets get up an sand up for our rights we should all work hard and start acting like little kids!!!

    August 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  24. pipedown

    So whose debt do we own and can we trade down our debit with them

    August 12, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  25. Francisco Lerma

    I've been following the endless roller coaster ride of political and market fluctuations and gridlock, and I have to say that the American people are the ones that should be running the U.S. Government, because it seems that those Harvard and Yale-educuated senators and House members don't know what to do to create a sound and practical plan to get American out of debt, in the long run. I think the reason that those in Congress don't know what they're doing, and are out of synch with the wants and needs of those who elected them, is because they spend the majority of their time in their air conditioned offices dealing with other white-collar people(i.e. lobbyists), and forget to talk to the people who really matter: middle and lower-class Americans.

    August 12, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  26. Rodrigo L.

    Tem certeza disso à longo prazo?

    August 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Reply
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