Who does the US Government borrow money from?
December 6, 2004 12:35 PM   Subscribe

ForgottenEconLessonsFilter - When the US Gov't says that they are going to borrow more money to fund an initiative, what entity is doing the lending? What is there to keep them from refusing?
posted by grabbingsand to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Check out this wikipedia article, particularly the section titled "What the debt includes".
posted by loquax at 12:40 PM on December 6, 2004

Here's the relevant text:

Government bonds are part of the national debt, as are loans from banks, and Treasury securities. The debt also includes unfunded liabilities like pension plan payments and, by some measures, Social Security. Bonds sold for infrastructure projects are also part of the national debt. Some economists, but not all, include sums related to bills the government must pay for goods and services it has contracted for in the current fiscal year.

The debt is owed to a number of sources. Individual Americans and businesses buy savings bonds and T-bills. Much of the debt is held overseas, however. This is especially true of Japan which buys large amounts of the debt to cover its trade surplus. In recent years the People's Republic of China has also become a major holder of American debt.

posted by loquax at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2004

If I get your meaning, people refuse to buy US debt all the time. At least, until the interest offered on that debt is high enough to be worth the risk that the principle will not be paid back while remaining competitive with other investments. I wouldn't buy a 60-day US T-Bill at 1.00%, but I would at 2.50%. With the US, it's not much of a concern, but Israel savings bonds, for example, offer a better return for a number of economic (and political) reasons. It's just like asking your bank for a mortgage, except that the "bank" is the entire country, plus foreign corporations, governments and individuals, and more, each with their own risk thresholds and objectives, each desiring different vehicles for assuming your debt. It *isn't* the IMF, or world bank, or other commercial banks (at least, not exclusively when we're talking about a trillion dollars).
posted by loquax at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2004

Probably the treasury, but don't forget that some agencies (TVA, FHLB, for example) do their own financing.

Those are the agencies that are doing the borrowing.

Loquax describes the lenders well. His most recent comment also explains why increased government debt tends to push up interest rates (higher rates make the debt appealing to more lenders).
posted by mr_roboto at 1:31 PM on December 6, 2004

If you are wondering who is giving the government money in the first place, the Treasury holds auctions for debt. Investors - commercial banks, mutual funds, individual investors, etc - place bids for upcoming issues and the auction winners give the government the money.

This FAQ from the Bureau of Public Debt talks about government debt (and specifically about auctions).

This page at the New York Fed explains the entire auction process extremely well.
posted by milkrate at 1:45 PM on December 6, 2004

I am!

And so is everyone else who owns U.S. Savings Bonds!

I think I may be about 50 years or so out of date, but I'm proud that I "took stock in America."
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:15 PM on December 6, 2004

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