Everyone The U.S. Government Owes Money To, In One Graph
broken down by category and by how much government debt they hold


Source: NPR

Category: Credit, Digital Media, Politics, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

12 Responses to “All Holders of U.S. Treasury Debt”

  1. capitalistic says:

    Technically, we’re in a good position.

  2. [...] Barry RItholtz, The Big Picture, All Holders of U.S. Treasury Debt, here. [...]

  3. Angryman1 says:

    How foreign debt does the US hold?

  4. ilsm says:

    For more study: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-114

    GAO-13-114, Nov 8, 2012 Audit of the Bureau of Public Debt’s FY 2011 and 2012 Schedule of Public Debt, 30 Sep 2012.

  5. SecondLook says:

    How foreign debt does the US hold?

    I was mildly curious so I ran a quick online search for the answer.

    Approximately $1.6-1.7 trillion in long term debt notes, and less than a half trillion in short term. This not held by the U.S. Government per se, but reflects holdings by corporations, mutual funds, individuals, etc.By far and away, we seem to prefer buying UK debt over any other countries; about 10% of their total external debt (monies owed exclusively to non residents).

    There is now almost dormant issue of war debt – mostly money we lent to allies during the world wars, that was either never repaid, or meagerly so. With accrued interest and all that jazz, it isn’t insubstantial; some estimates are in the trillion dollar range, but in reality, those debts have to be thought of as sunk costs of those wars. However we might have pretended for political reasons to call them loans..

  6. msnthrop says:

    My wife’s family has many conservative types who often try to get a rise out of me at holiday gatherings, since I’m pretty much the token liberal in the group and my wife won’t engage, about the national debt. I tell them I think it is meaningless for a few reasons…one we owe most of it to ourselves and because it is in dollars we have total control over what its influence is on our economy. No we can’t just make it go away, but we can limit it’s impact pretty easily whenever we want. The second point I make to them is that since the 1970′s wage growth has ceased for the lower and middle classes and nearly all of the wealth that has been generated during that time has ended up in the bank accounts and trading accounts of the top 5%. I tell my relatives that the rich have taken over the government, and have used it to direct the movement of all this wealth into their accounts, and that if/when the debt really needs to be paid we know exactly where to go to get the money. The third aspect of the debt I try to impart on them is that it is a mainline connection to the globalized economy. Owing debt to each other at the global scale is frankly much better than signing treaties. I’d venture the increasing interconnectivity that is represented by the debt are the ties that bind that global movement of goods and services together. I’m very skeptical of our military escapades all over the planet, but I’m much more sanguine about our global debt interactions. These conservatives in my family, and presumably all conservatives at some level, have some predisposed notion to disbelieve that they are already part of collectives that persist at multiple nested scales…the “independent” concept is very strong in them. Having a debt is simply another signal to them that they are not independent of anything.

    • Moss says:

      The Fed could simply cancel out the all the TSY debt it holds on its balance sheet. It is all a booking exercise anyway.

    • flakester says:

      There’s that fun one “we owe it to ourselves”. While somewhat true, it implies that our government doesn’t have to have integrity and pay it back to the citizen and other owners. Debt matters.

    • One problem with your argument that “we owe the skyrocketing debt to ourselves, so we can limit the impact”: each of those debts represents a promise to pay someone. If we can’t pay as agreed, the impact is severe. For example, if we don’t pay Grandma the $20K/year in Social Security because we can’t, and instead we only pay her $10K, that creates a problem. Alternatively, if we pay her $20K but we’ve driven monetary inflation (and skimped on the COLAs) so that it only buys $10K worth of goods, that still creates a problem. Piling on more promises now won’t change what Grandma’s going to get in real long-term value. The only thing that’s going to save Grandma is if someone else doesn’t get what they were promised… Now we have to repeat the same argument for everyone who was promised something — bottom line, we face a political vicious cycle for years to come.

      Adding more to the debt without generating real GDP improvements will only aggravate the vicious cycle. And the data shows that the debt piled on since 2000 or so has done precious little to boost GDP, but represents an enormous number of promises relative to that GDP.

      It is true that there are ways to break promises gently, rather than defaulting brutally, but the root problem is that our governments (at all levels) have, in aggregate, made far more promises than can realistically be kept. Politically it makes a big difference how you do it, but in practical terms the outcome is bad no matter what. There will be massive financial haircuts and broken expectations.

      Furthermore, a political process, rather than a rational process, is going to decide who gets the worst cuts. This is not a recipe for peace and prosperity in a vicious-cycle political climate.

      Even worse, the exaggerated promises are now so blatant that the government is losing credibility. As the promises lose credibility that creates all kinds of political and economic issues, because people here, and worldwide, will modify their behavior if they don’t think we can deliver.

      Putting it all together, the problem is here and now, and aside from the immediate crises the risk of something catastrophically bad happening is rising exponentially. Papering the problem over with politically palatable platitudes isn’t a panacea.

      There needs to be structural economic reform. The government needs to prioritize wants vs. needs, and we as a nation need to find better ways to direct labor to where it can generate genuine improvements in well-being.

  7. msnthrop says:

    Too bad WordPress doesn’t send a notice when a post is replied to and though this will probably slip through the cracks and never get seen I’d still like to respond. I am not advocating that because we owe a high percentage of our debt to ourselves that we simply don’t pay that debt. I would say the Fed and treasury have the ability to limit the impact that debt has on the economy over the short term, but eventually it will indeed have to be paid. My point was we know were the money to pay the debt is right now. Since the 1970′s total wealth has increased significantly in the United States. The majority of that wealth has ended up in the accounts of the richest Americans, some by income increases (CEO pay in 1980 50x the salary of the average worker, today 300x), and some by changes in the tax code. Per capita government spending as a percent of GDP has remained essentially the same during this same period of time (19-23% or so). Government has continued to spend about the same amount during this entire period, but the money needed to fund that spending has been diverted from the government coffers and is now in the accounts of the wealthiest Americans. That diversion is where the debt has come from. If the wealthiest Americans had been subjected to pretty much the same level of taxation as they were in the late 70′s over the past 30 or so years, I would bet the debt would be much much smaller than it is right now (assuming per capita government spending followed the same course it has, kind of a big assumption I suppose…). I am of the mind there is difference in the path our country has taken between if the government had spent that money on infrastructure or R and D or if it had ended up in the rich guys pocket to be invested in speculative financial markets. The rich have not wanted to pay their share of taxes for the past 30 years and they have purchased access into the government to make sure their share continues to get smaller and smaller. At the same time government spending as remained steady, but the because tax revenues are lower than they need to be, the debt has grown. If we want to pay the debt, or lower the deficit, the only real answer is to claw it back from the people who captured it. The most important promise that needs to be broken is the one the corrupted government has made to its wealthy controllers. There are others of course, and I agree the government has made too many promises, but addressing wealth inequality is the whole point of a functioning non-corrupted government. Ours quit doing that 3 decades ago and the debt is the result.