The concept of Free Trade is very simple but it is found nowhere on the planet today and for most of the past as well; and a hard fact is that if a federal government is involved even a little bit you can bet your bottom dollar there is no Free Trade. Free Trade means that ever transaction is a negotiation between the two parties which are the buyer and the seller for a greed to price in some currency for a good or service in a different country.
So let’s set up a two country world model country A the USA and country B China. The buyer in country A gets the goods and the seller in country B gets the currency. Where things get sticky is what does the seller do with the currency he gets, dollars in this case, since he can’t spend it in his country? Well you say he takes it to the bank and converts it into the currency the seller uses, Yuan in this case, at some specified exchange rate; but that doesn’t solve the problem it just transfer it to the bank. The bank will hold the dollars for a time as the bank knows that a buyer in the banks country will need the Dollars they are holding to buy something in the USA at some time in the near future. Now so long as the need for Dollars and Yuan are proportionally equal, say one Dollar for one Yuan the trading system is in balance and we have Free Trade; meaning at the end of the year the bank has no dollars or yuan in its trading account.
Now we add a complication to the analysis which is what does the bank do if at the end of the year it has a balance of dollars, a surplus, which were not needed? Well since we are still in a Free Trade situation the bank could reduce the exchange rate making the Dollars cheaper vis-a-vis the Yuan say two Dollars for one Yuan which makes the USA goods 50% cheaper. So the demand for dollars goes up and more USA goods are purchase and the system is back in balance. So there is a method to insure that the trade is in fact free; meaning free of government interference i.e. tariffs, customs inspections, fixed exchange rates and various standards and quotas.
What the cleaver Asians have figured out, first the Japanese, is that the American politicians are stupid and corrupt and like buying votes with free things to the poor. But to get the money for paying for the free things (someone does have to pay) they would need to tax the rich and since they are the rich that wouldn’t work so well so they needed another way to get the money that they could blame on others, evil companies. In the previous example we had a surplus of Dollars in China being held by the bank and so in this example the Chinese government took the Dollars from the banks at the previous rate of one Dollar per one Yuan so they now had the dollars. Now the cleaver part was that they didn’t buy goods in the USA they bought US Treasuries, basically they were leading their Dollars to the US Government. And our government was glad to get them as it gave them more money to buy free things for the masses. However there was a price this system made it almost impossible for the US companies to compete in China; and worse it made the Chinese goods so cheap that they had to start buying their parts from China. This system is not sustainable as there are only so many jobs that can be shipped to China and at that point they will have trillions of Dollars in their hands and they will end up buying the country with it.
We are now in a political a system, not an economic system, where we get cheap goods and in return we ship them our jobs. No sane government would ever do this as it can’t last very long and at some point there is no returning to the old system, and we are almost there.