All the countries that the US owes money to

In May 2011, the United States owned $14.3 trillion in debt. A lot of that is money is owed to other countries. Heather Billings and Todd Lindeman of The Washington Post break foreign debt down by continent and then by country.

Foreign investors hold the largest share of the national debt. Estimated foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities have more than quadrupled since 2001. Some experts worry about the geopolitical consequences of foreign governments investing so deeply in U.S. Treasurys. But the investments also tie the fortunes of foreign governments more closely to those of the United States.

It’s your standard interactive stacked area chart, except when you click on a layer in the initial view, which shows a break down by continent, you get a finer grained view with debt broken down by country. Instead of all the layers fading and reappearing on a selection, I would’ve liked to see a smoother transition like previous stacked charts, with country lines appearing at the end. This might help readers keep with the context better. Still good work though.

[Washington Post via @hfairfield]


  • it’s meaningless.. it needs to be as a proportion of GDP the only useful denominator which puts it into context of the size of the economy and adjusts for the vagaries of inflation. Of course its the Wash Post so they dont want to contextulaise this increase in any way.

    • Hardly meaningless. If you wish to plot it again GDP to see that it is still a significant increase,GDP was 9.9T in 2000 continuing on an almost straight line to 14.7T for 2010. So over a decade, total national debt went from 58% of GDP to 97% of GDP. Plot it against GDP, change the vertical scale, and you would end up with an identical looking chart.

      • One graph (GDP) goes from c.a. 60 to 100 (increases a bit over a half more) the other above from 6 to 14.5 (dollars) (increases a bit under 2 and a half-fold more).
        They are very different, the GDP graph is a truer reflection of the US situation, and the Wash Post chose the other.
        ps Im not American, Im just telling it the way it is.

  • It’d be interesting to see the other side of the balance sheet. What is the US owed?

  • Specifics about the data itself aside, can anyone say what steps they used to make the chart? Source code for the webpage gives the impression that its Javascript running the interactivity. How do you get from a bunch of CSV values to that? (I know, Flowing Data has posted before on Actionscript and Flash-enabled charts…I’m curious about this specific graph)

    • I’ve just had a quick look – but it’s using a jquery plugin called jqplot

      I’ve not used it myself, but have seen a few good use examples (like this one). In firefox (may be browser dependent) this builds a bunch of canvas tags to draw the chart and adds the interactivity. More generally, they’re probably importing data (e.g. from a csv) (or perhaps the data is hardcoded in javascript), parsing it, and passing it to the jqplot library (and doing a bunch of custom tinkering in between).

    • Blisko, I have a clone of this graph at

      It uses JavaScript and RaphaelJS instead of jqPlot, and it almost works (it works in Firefox, Chrome, and Opera, but not IE, yet). I guess until it works in IE it’s probably sub-par. On the other hand, my version uses ~300 lines of JavaScript, where the original used ~750.

      I might write up a kind of tutorial on how I made it, in the next couple days.

  • Francisco Feijó Delgado July 22, 2011 at 6:19 am

    Has a few typos, though. “Russian” instead of “Russia”, “Columbia” instead of Colombia.

  • If you paste a screenshot of an interactive feature, please label it “static” or something.

  • Kaspersky Antivirus 2011 reports that the actual JavaScript on that website contains Trojan… Hmmm?.. Is it false-positive or not?..

  • At the bottom of the interactive graphic is this note, “Source: U.S. Treasury Department. NOTE: Not adjusted for inflation.” I didn’t see that note on the print version. How would the graph look different if it was adjusted for inflation?

  • CR wrote: “How would the graph look different if it was adjusted for inflation?”

    Not much. The trend is identical. You would need to go back another 5, 10 years for the charts to start looking drastically different. The beginning figure in the chart above would increase by about only 18 percent.

    My guess is that the graphic published before the online version. One of the plusses, of course, to online pieces is that you can update ’til your heart’s content.

  • Foreigners sure seem to like our debt. Let’s hope they don’t go on a diet.

  • And on the other side of the scope, we are helping China by imposing financial sanctions on Iran. US financial sanctions have blocked China from paying at least $20bn for oil imports… and I’m sure there are countless other examples that could be used.

    I got this info from the Financial Times today, if anyone was curious to read the article.

  • funny that the usa has 7.2 trillion unaccounted for in millitary spending and national dept of 14.3 trillion
    they can not account for half of there owed dept funny hmmm
    correct me if im wrong but if they had not lost that the dept would be drastically reduced

    just wondering I know thats a dumb thing to say .
    guess it just me never was good at math I think some one smarter should take a look at this equation
    but this is what I came up with 14.3 trillion -7.2 trillion =7.1 trillion
    less the money spent on the war crimes I mean war times trillions
    may be im wrong exciting isnt it ??
    some of usa people have been enjoying the loss of the constitutional rights they thought they had
    but aparently thier rights don.t matter any more anyway dam working class slaves any how.
    obama hasn,t said much about it im shure hes just waiting to print some more
    paper to back up the other paper that was to back up some other paper money that was printed to cover the gold that was running low or something ,
    sorry im not a historian but its been going on for a long long long time

    seems to me lybia,s plan to only sell oil for gold got american rulers a little up set for some reason
    any one know?
    any way gadaffis got killed for some other reason ,

    must have been all the free electricity he was giving away to all his people ,or free education,maybe it was the fact there were no taxs or the money the people recieved for exports maybe they were mad at him for treating them like spoiled brats the truth is out there
    wel the nato rebel forces will make shure they are never treated that way again
    lovley pack of rats running this world remember obey fox news ,cbc and the rest of the media they put a good spin on the news I mean really exciting with all the crazy things going on and they assure me every thing is ok,
    knowing all the media stars are not going to tell the truth about squat
    even when I should and keep me disinformed for the masters agenda to complete so I can have more slave friends
    just saying

    • @truth rattel

      The problem with your post about reducing spending for defense is that it was written in English, not the language the US will use of we stop spending on defense, Arabic. I know you want to rush us into Sharia Law. No spending on defense will help your plan.