(Main St) Who Owns the U.S.?
Here we break down the top 10 foreign holders of U.S. debt, comparing each creditor’s holdings with the equivalent chunk of the United States they “own,” represented by the latest (2009) state gross domestic product data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Obviously, these creditors won’t actually take states from us as payment on our debts, but it’s fun to imagine what states and national monuments they could assert a claim to.
1. Mainland China
Amount of U.S. debt: $891.6 billion
Share of total foreign debt: 20.4%
Building on the holdings of its associated territories, China is the undisputed largest holder of U.S. foreign debt in the world. Accounting for 20.4% of the total, mainland China’s $891.6 billion in U.S. treasury securities is almost equal to the combined 2009 GDP of Illinois ($630.4 billion) and Indiana ($262.6 billion) in 2009, a shade higher at a combined $893 billion. As President Obama — who is from Chicago — wrangles over his proposed budget with Congress he may be wise to remember that his home city may be at stake in the deal.
Amount of U.S. debt: $883.6 billion
Share of total foreign debt: 20.2%
The runner-up on the list of our most significant international creditors goes to Japan, which accounts for over a fifth of our foreign debt holdings with $883.6 billion in U.S. treasury securities. That astronomical number is just shy of the combined GDP of a significant chunk of the lower 48: Minnesota ($260.7 billion), Wisconsin ($244.4 billion), Iowa ($142.3 billion) and Missouri ($239.8 billion) produced a combined output of $887.2 billion in 2009.
3. United Kingdom
Amount of U.S. debt: $541.3 billion
Share of total foreign debt: 12.4%
At number three on the list is perhaps our closest ally on the world stage, the United Kingdom (which includes the British provinces of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man). The U.K. holds $541.3 billion in U.S. foreign debt, which is 12.4% of our total external debt. That amount is equivalent to the combined GDP of two East Coast manufacturing hubs, Delaware ($60.6 billion) and New Jersey ($483 billion) — which was named, yes, after the island of Jersey in the English Channel. The two states’ combined output in 2009 came to $543.6 billion.