Let's say that civilization ends due to non-globally destructive means. For instance, a rising tide that destroys ports and trade wouldn't scar the landscape of Denver the way nuclear war would. Economic collapse or riots wouldn't change the climate. Please, nobody mention zombies. The result is people living essentially in anarchy until a new power can come maintain order.

Centuries later, a new civilization begins to rise, but they haven't yet built an industrial base or trade network. Working factories are minimal and there are few comparable civilizations with which a trading relationship could be established. What specific obstacles or resource deficiencies would they most likely face in the first decades of trying to rebuild?

For instance, there would likely be plenty of aluminum from recycling to eliminate the need for mining more in the short-term, but the civilization would not likely have access to citrus unless it was within a citrus growing region. The civilization would not be able to build new skyscrapers, but it would be able to make passable replacement glass for windows at high cost.

  • $\begingroup$ Please take the tour and visit the help center to understand what kind of questions we answer here: well defined problems, with a single question per post and that can be objectively measured. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 3 '18 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ There's a mismatch within the question which makes a proper answer really awkward even if the question wasn't otherwise too broad: "modern knowledge, but no trade network or strong industrial base" you couldn't keep that full knowledge base without being able to use it. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Oct 3 '18 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ "Centuries" can be a really, really long time in politics, economics, and technological development. There seems no need to 'rebuild' old (industrial) infrastructure - new infrastructure will be built when and where it is needed...as it always has been. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Oct 3 '18 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ As I read your conditions, I find that your query's basic premise is seriously flawed. I see no reason why, for example, American civilisation should be destroyed simply because the coasts are indundated. On the contrary, many would agree that a general cleansing of DC, NYC and the Left Coast would be a Very Good Thing indeed. Trade networks that depend on ships will indeed be disrupted. But the US can continue to trade very easily with Canada and Mexico simply because of rail and road networks. Eurasia can get along very nicely as well... (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 3 '18 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ (concl.) ... And what will prevent the US from simply bulldozing a path through the wreckage and reopening old ports? Or establishing new ones? China, Japan, Korea, Australia and the EU will certainly do the same. I think a general rethink of your query is in order! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 3 '18 at 22:30

That's a lot of questions, but essentially, the main dividing line between the "old west" and modern society revolves around electricity, and although the electric light bulb was invented in 1879, we did not reach half of American homes with electric lights until 1925. Less than 100 years ago!

Radio only began to be a major force in the 1920's, Television in the 1950's.

The ramp-up of those technologies to the current state was delayed because they were new inventions, so given your "modern knowledge" allowance, we can imagine they would be re-deployed very rapidly, in a matter of decades. Same with engines, running on gasoline, coal, steam, etc. Because everybody already knows the value of these technologies.

And to an extent the same with computers. If the electricity has been off, computer chips don't exactly "rot", in mild climates (not overly hot or freezing to cause thermal expansion and contraction stress) they should survive just fine.

Also, remember international trade existed centuries before even the steam engine was invented, even before America was invented. There is no reason to think it should suddenly stop. Given "modern knowledge" again, wooden sailing ships are not that hard to build, and back in the 1700s and 1800s, trade routes were a good way to get wealthy; by the law of supply and demand, at first. Being one of the few ships to visit a port, there was not a lot of supply for what the captain brought to sell (so his markup was high), and not a lot of options to sell what you had overseas (so he could buy relatively low). I should think this is an opportunity many would seize, get 50 men together to build a boat and find their fortunes. Again, unlike the men of 500 years ago, with modern knowledge every major problem in navigation, materials, and management is already solved.

I do not think the industrial base would be difficult to rebuild after centuries of abandonment: Basically we built it up in about 75 years, without knowing exactly what we were doing and still having to invent new parts of it along the way. If we know pretty much exactly what to do and what to work on, it should get rebuilt in perhaps fifty years, certainly not longer than 75 years.

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    $\begingroup$ Perspective: When my mother was a child, the last of the participants in the gunfight at the OK corral was still alive. Wyatt Earp's grand children are still kicking around today. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Oct 4 '18 at 1:35

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