February 10, 2011

Who owns America’s debt?

Another great set of data from the Guardian, this time tracking the owners of America’s debt.  Probably not a shock to anyone is that America is hugely indebted to Asian countries, China and Japan in particular.  As of October 2010, China owns 23% ($907B) of the debt, while Japan is closely behind at 22% ($877B).  That’s right, two countries own 45% of America’s debt, a concerning situation indeed.

Simon Rogers of the Guardian posted a visualization using Many Eyes.  Once again the viz of choice is bubbles.  This time you get a decent idea that three countries account for a huge proportion, but the bubbles are missing the percentage of the total, which in my opinion would give much more perspective.  Also, the data provided goes back to July 2008, so why not use all of it?  Here is Simon’s viz, but there’s no real need to interact with it; that doesn’t add any value.

Naturally, with country level data being available, I’m led to starting with a map.  From there I added:

  1. A bar chart, colored by the amount of debt, to show the rank each country has within its region
  2. A Pareto chart to illustrate which countries have the greatest cumulative influence on America’s financial well-being
  3. A line chart to track the amount of debt owned over time.  Initially the line represents the total US debt, but click on a country and you can see how their debt ownership has changed. 

Of particular interest is China, since it owns the most debt.  It maxed out at $940B in July 2009, decreased its ownership by 10% over the next year, and has since begun purchasing more treasury bonds. 

Be sure to look at the UK, which has increased by 450% in just 12 months.  I wonder who the sucker is over there.

What do you see?