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Imagine there is a country in which there are all important natural resources (oil, gas, metal ores, wood, etc.) in their natural form and which lies in a temperate climate region. There may be some portion of a sea. The country is completely isolated from the rest of the world - nothing (except for air, precipitation, etc.) can get in or out. What is the minimum population and size of the country to sustain a developed industrial society? (All the technology used there has to be produced somewhere in the country eventually.) The technology level is current. (Year 2014, realistic technologies that can be mass-produced with reasonable cost.)

By other words: What is the minimum amount of people and land to produce self-sustained agriculture and all relevant factories that are necessary for complete self sufficiency in industry from mining all ores to producing the final devices? Consider that people need to be educated and not all are geniuses that can be educated to the cutting-edge technology expert levels.

EDIT: You can assume the technology is initially present, it does not have to be invented, but next generation must be able to learn it and understand it. (For example people have a very good library, or computer database, as long as the computers are running.)

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    $\begingroup$ when you say "nothing can get in or out", are you implying that the nation's technology is not sufficiently advanced for flight and seafaring, or that there is some force that prevents them from making contact with the outside world? Or is it that they choose to isolate themselves? $\endgroup$ – ninesided Oct 22 '14 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ The question aims only to find out what is the minimal size of self-sustaining industrial civilization. One can imagine the planet/world itself is small (but with temperate climate). $\endgroup$ – Irigi Oct 22 '14 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ The difficulty is that industrialization and invention is driven by need. On a completely isolated nation state that has natural resources in abundance, what would the need be? $\endgroup$ – ninesided Oct 22 '14 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ Zero, if you automate everything and make it a robot-dominanted society. You may want to spcecify a level of technological advance - otherwise people will have to make assumptions on how far agricultural advances have been made, and how much roboticization has occured. $\endgroup$ – Zibbobz Oct 22 '14 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ The Republic (from Plato) is a good source for exactly how many people are needed for an early iron age society. It describes in detail how a couple of families are enough for simple survival, and counts how many different professions are needed if you want current, state-of-the-art (for Plato's time) luxury, services, art, etc. While it obviously doesn't have modern technology, it's a good start to understand the basic building blocks of a functioning society. $\endgroup$ – vsz Oct 28 '14 at 19:39
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To maintain 2014 levels of technology, an order of magnitude estimate is between 10 million and 100 million people.

The key point here is specialization. The higher your level of technology, the more specialized individual workers must be to maintain it.

A good modern example is the island of Cuba. It has to be highly self-sufficient, because it is isolated from the outside world by the US embargo and other factors. It has a population of about 11.2 million and sustains a simplified industrial economy, but with technology at least a few decades behind the USA or Europe.

There is no barrier to Cuba obtaining the knowledge to build (for example) modern computers, but they lack the critical mass of population to support enough specialists to get the job done.

Now consider South Korea, with a population of about 50 million. Unlike Cuba, SK is a highly open trading nation; but SK is interesting because of its highly successful manufacturing industry. It seems plausible that SK is the smallest modern nation which could, by itself, build anything which is considered part of our current technology.

SK may still be a little small to sustain a fully diverse economy, including scientific research and development of new technology. To be really confident of maintaining modern technology, you might want to double the population (to about the size of Japan, with 127 million people).

By this argument, a comfortable population size would be about 100 million, and a minimum would be somewhere between 12 and 50 million (but probably closer to 50).

Just as an aside, you would probably need several hundred people to maintain even a "medieval" standard of living. Mining, smelting, and forging metals in particular requires a significant number of specialists. A single family couldn't do it. A fascinating example is the six members of the Lykov family, who lived in total isolation in the Siberian wilderness for 40 years, and ended up with little more than stone age technology.

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    $\begingroup$ Cuba is a terrible example - the barriers there are related to institutional constraints rather than external barriers or size limitations. $\endgroup$ – Ofir Mar 12 '17 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Ofir: No need to be rude, and I never said Cuba was a perfect example. IMO it's a useful and interesting example of an isolated industrial economy. If you know of better ones, by all means tell us about them. :-) $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 13 '17 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ Apologies if my comment seemed rude, in any case Cuba was never isolated, it simply didn't overtly trade with the united states, but it traded heavily with the eastern block, Spain, South America, etc. For much of its history, Israel, with half the population was much more isolated because of the Arab boycott (especially the secondary boycott which prevented companies from trading with both Israel and the arab world). In terms of trade Israel is still essentially an Island state. $\endgroup$ – Ofir Mar 14 '17 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Ofir: Fair enough. "Terrible" is a fairly strong word though. Cuba did trade with the Eastern Bloc, but that hasn't existed for almost 30 years, which left Cuba few trading partners. As for Israel, it's always had a large and powerful ally in the USA, so it may not be a very good example either. Since 2000 it has also had an open trading relationship with the EU: ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/… $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 15 '17 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ Cuba's economic plight might stem in part from their adoption of some form of socialism under which workforce productivity tends to lag. Consider this an observation only - if true at all -, not a judgement, there are other metrics for a developed society but GDP (in fact, Cuba is superior in some respect, eg. access to Health Services). However, technically, the Cuban level of self-sustenance seems attainable with less people. Supporting data: GDP (PPP) Cuba:USA ~ 1:5 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita), suggesting that a population of 2 mln may suffice. $\endgroup$ – collapsar Jul 1 at 7:58
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In Medieval times and before a single family, or few families at most, were capable of making almost everything they need to support they civilization (subsistence economy). If you just need to smelt metal, bloomery in not that complex device, a single worker could build and operate (but would probably not have time for growing crops at the same time so others must feed him).

This, however, probably would not be "industrial" but may be a hint that minimal size is probably rather small, depending on the list of technologies you need to support. Not everything humans are currently doing and are capable of is necessary even for building a tractor, for instance, or steam locomotive.

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(This probably is a comment but it's too big.)

Efficiency is going to be a big problem here--many things are far more efficiently done on a large scale. Small populations mean doing things less efficiently and thus dropping the standard of living. There are also things that simply can't be done on anything but a big scale. You either have a weather satellite up there or you don't (9 figures final cost.) You either have a GPS system or you don't (nearly 11 figures total cost.) Thus you have to decide what is actually included in your "technology is current" before you can decide the population needed to support it.

Also, you have to consider exactly what "current" means. Consider 3D printing--we are only scratching the surface of this but the limit isn't technological, but rather ramp-up time. 3D printers cost the same for 1 part or a million and thus the economics become more and more favorable when the number of items needed is lower. A small civilization where a large number of items are 3D printed isn't actually more technically advanced than ours even though it's not feasible at present. Likewise, CNC-based milling of parts would exist on a larger scale than present.

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Population numbers are based upon current political, social, cultural and educational realities. How many less people would you need if you change these parameters?

For example: create a social and cultural change to the education of the next generation so the level of education off all children is the highest possible. Create governance and management of resources, both human and environmental, as efficient as possible, from economic and cultural incentives to the use of the most advanced technology currently available to set up infrastructure.

The real question then becomes, how much would it cost to set up a fully self-sufficient society and how many would be required to maintain it?

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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to WorldBuilding! This looks like a good start but the last bit looks like you are asking a question yourself. Answers should try to answer the question raised by the OP. Could you edit your answer to provide a little more information? Like a personal estimate as a last paragraph after the question you raised? Or maybe there are some sources that could back up the numbers you think are relevant. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Mar 11 '17 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @Secespitus. If you yourself have questions, please feel welcome to post them at our main page. However, since this does not provide an answer, I am voting to remove this post. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 12 '17 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ "how much would it cost to set up a fully self-sufficient society and how many would be required to maintain it?" that is actually the OP's, you estimation ? :) $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Mar 12 '17 at 10:38
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Considering the country is totally disconnected from the outside world, the country will have to do all the work for itself. Technological advance will need a lot of effort since there is no communication with the outside world, this country will have to do all the research on its own. Thus the country would need a huge population to support its needs.

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    $\begingroup$ Hey there! Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE. Take a moment to go through the tour: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/tour. We appreciate answers that can back up their claims with research or mathematics wherever possible. $\endgroup$ – Danny Reagan Oct 22 '14 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ Yes it would be nice if you could add a little more detail explaining what you are getting at here. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Oct 22 '14 at 13:25
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exactly the current population of the world. considering our culture, our economy and every other aspect of social life we have achieved current level of technology with the current size of the population. if we implement a better culture which people could cooperate in a better way then we would need less people to maintain or achieve the same level of technology and comfort.

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First to answer the question, yes it can be totally possible. Let us go to a real world example. China.

China while semi-isolated, had an advanced level of technology. The printing press were invented, fireworks, and even prototype machine gun-ish crossbows are found in historical data. We can say that resources were abundant in China, and the country, while not very big, could sustain itself. It might have been possible for China to have continued the same level of development.

Second, for the comments, why would they need advance. Quality of life, as noted by Irigi, has been a push for human society for years. Also a deity that encourages discovery can help. For example, a special heaven is promised. Another push for technology would have been civil wars. Wars evolve technology in all field, whether they be warfare or civilian ones.

I'll post some sources later.

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    $\begingroup$ -1, sorry, but it doesn't really answer the question. He's asking about population. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Oct 23 '14 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ I'll add it when I'm at home. $\endgroup$ – MikhailTal Oct 23 '14 at 6:55

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