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 (1,270 Responses)
  1. jiff davis

    As i said it's zionist bankers that own america but gods special people are above the law so they won't give us the names.

    Both Bush and Obama are guilty of treason and we need to stop this game because it's all a fox

    July 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      Why would the jewish owned media give us their names, they are too busy trying to throw people off the track than tell the truth!!!

      July 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  2. lol

    nice breakdown of the debt holdings. Wow Hong Kong has a crapload of it too.

    July 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  3. Bob in pa

    Now people can see why the Social Security trust fund is in so much trouble. President Johnson and his democratic congress should have been taken to task for this mess long ago. But too many greedy people just kept putting SS into the general fund as if it was theirs to spend. Wake up Democrats and Republicans, this will just continue to spiral downhill until we are in the same shape as Greece unless you tell your party leaders enough.

    July 29, 2011 at 9:57 am | Reply
  4. John

    That only adds up to 71.01 % Where's the rest?

    July 29, 2011 at 10:11 am | Reply
  5. Alex

    by Americans, do you mean the Fed? Central Bankers? If you do my friend, then you are correct. The banking system owns America.

    July 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  6. um no

    we're in debt because greedy corporations dont pay taxes

    July 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  7. stephen

    Wall Street would love to get their hands on our Social Security trillions! That's what the fat cats like Boehner and Republicans want to see.

    July 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  8. stephen

    Corporations are sitting on lots of money....and they are not expanding because they are all wanting Obama to fail. They are sitting on wads of cash waiting it out. Meanwhile they are getting fatter but they are not hiring and not creating more jobs. They are manipulating America. The rich and corporations get away with not paying taxes. They should be held accountable. THEY ARE THE REASON WHY WE ARE IN THIS MESS. Their greed and risk has created a mess that the poor and middle class are struggling with. Meanwhile they are getting their raises and fat bonuses! Republicans and Tea Baggers are their marionettes!

    July 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • David

      Or they are holding on their cash for the same reason the American people are: Fear of unsafe investments. Probably also trying to avoid losing all their money and requiring another bailout.

      July 31, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
  9. Temp

    This is ridiculous why doesnt CNN post about how much US has stakes in other countries. Here is an article I found http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104803.html.. This is way back in 2006.. Think about now?

    July 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  10. Rogelio

    If my math is correct there is only 75.5% of US accounted who owns the 24.5% left?

    July 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Yeah, the numbers don't add up to 100% makes you kind of wonder the validity of the article all together. Way to do some solid reporting there CNN.

      July 29, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Reply
    • Homer10

      Well dang. Let me get out my super duper Microsoft Calc+ and add 24.5 + 75.5. Wow I get 100.0 using Ctrl C and V. Mike I think your math is off.

      July 30, 2011 at 12:39 am | Reply
  11. Homer10

    II agree with some of the tea parties arguments, but these guys are lunatics, and bad things will come if we follow their way. Obama's plan is solid, and a larger amount cut than what the conservatives are proposing, finishes the argument, and get's it settled. There are other plans from all sides that have more + than -. Just decide!

    July 30, 2011 at 12:32 am | Reply
    • Jay

      Homer, you're clueless. Hope you're not balancing the family checkbook. If Obummer's plan is solid, that must mean you're some wunderkind combo of Ghandi/Gates/Buffett/Mandela/Oprah all rolled into one! Homer for Prez!

      August 8, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Reply
  12. robert chung

    one thing the USA should know....madoff was a small crook compared to the US goverment!!

    July 30, 2011 at 3:55 am | Reply
  13. Mark

    The jewish owned media is too busy trying to throw people off track about jewish involvement in the debt than telling the truth how much they own by way of the FED to keep Americans enslaved. And people wonder why jews have been thrown out of every country they have inhabited. Look at what they are doing inside Palestine and it shows the jew through and through. Google ifamericansknew

    July 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Reply
    • Jon

      say that to my jewish face you little knock kneed church going pedophile. go have another priest suck you off.

      August 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  14. Elle

    An asshold is someone who likes to hold asses xD

    July 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  15. Bob Oakley

    Look at the second line from the bottom on bond holders – The US Treasury owns $1.63 trillion in bonds. How can they do that? They bought it using federal funds and that $1.63 trillion now appears in the federal debt which will reach the debt ceiling in 2 days. Maybe this is too simple but if the Treasury cancelled that purchase there wouldn't be a crisis. A spinoff would be that if those bonds were pulled out of the Fed, then they wouldn't be being held and drawing interest for big banks so they would have to do what banks do when money isn't free. They would have to start lending money to businesses and people.

    July 31, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  16. sasha

    I love how Canada is not mentioned, yet we are the number 1 supplier of oil to the us and the number 1 trade partner.

    July 31, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  17. ak

    I am Indian.All those Indians who are blindly comparing India with China are Idiots without proper knowledge of facts.Just because we are comfortably sitting in USA doesn't mean that India is a rich country.India started expanding it's economy in 90's where as china is expanding since 70's.We are atleast 20 yrs behind China.India is no where close to China in any field.Out of 1 billion more than 70% of populations live in villages without proper amneties.We might be in a position to compare with elite countries atleast after 15-20 yrs but we are not there yet. countries

    July 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • Lakshmi Mittal

      I hate India to the core. Its full of drama, hypocrites, corrupt and culturally confused people. Indians have no respect outside of their country. They are known only for the fact that they are hard working which any donkey can do. And they are hard working only because they can get lousy cheap clothes for the family and keep the rest of the money in bank accounts and not enjoy life one bit. I wish I was never born as an Indian

      July 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply
      • Kumar

        Relax, hating India is not going to to get you anywhere.

        April 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • galileo225

      India may be a babe in the woods, but they have great promise. I love some of the conversations i have had over the years with those of the hindu faith. Of all the religions in the world they impress me the most.. They will be a good friend and ally to the US down the road. Pakistan on the other hand worries me...

      August 18, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  18. Fusco

    America owns America. It does not take a genus to figure that one out.

    July 31, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  19. Roelof

    It's also not China that takes over most businesses. Last year Holland did.

    August 2, 2011 at 9:58 am | Reply
  20. Usman Malik

    Jokes aside, reading this discussion one does realise how much our Indian brothers are obsessed by Pakistan. Come on you are doing good already – why so insecure to spend over 100 comments on Pakistan when the original articles do not even remotely mention the country?

    August 2, 2011 at 11:06 am | Reply
  21. Pete

    That's very informative, but why don't we talk about how much foreigners owe US??

    August 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply
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