This question is inspired by the fact that Donald Trump is Republican nominee for next president. However, I am going to break rule there and here, so please assume we are talking about alternate Earth:

So, lets have country with landmass 9,6 million km2 and about 350 million citizens. This country has one of the strongest economies on the world and is in the club of eight strongest economies.

Yes, the description still fits the USA, but here what is different. The current mindset of the people.

The people of this country started to fear outside world. It feels unsafe to them and they feel that visiting people are more of threat. So they elect a new president, who has simple promise: Build the wall.

And assume this president delivers. In next 2 years he manages to build the wall around the most problematic parts ot the border. In his first 4 year term he manages to build the wall around 70 percent of the borders.

This president is re-elected and in his next 2 years he manages to build the wall all around the borders (where can be applied. So if border is made by water body the wall is not build there)

But the mindset of fearing the outside world does not end there. People of this country want to stop as much trade with outside world as possible. As the borders are being sealed more and more, the people also want to cut themselves off the outside world.

Trade stops and incentives are made to create the goods inside the land of this country. Scientists are stopping international exchange, tourist visa are stricter every next year.

Can you keep strong economy of rarher isolated country?

I would like to keep economy strong but the country isolated. But I feel this contradicts itself.

In other words: If USA starts isolating itself from outside world, will their economy crumble?

And again: I know the above model does not really fit current USA. This is why I require you to imagine alternate Earth where the above apply

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    $\begingroup$ I feel this question is too broad, depends on technological advancement, situation with rest of world, distribution of population by age, more older people will also encourage increase legal immigration. Polices like stopping trade with external world is more situation based. Rather than seeing it as a question of will it or wont it, see it as things always change, if in future isolating is causing stagnation, then populous would naturally change policies. $\endgroup$
    – Chinu
    Jul 23, 2016 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you can have a strong economy without import, export or immigration. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2016 at 8:40
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    $\begingroup$ No country (maybe except North Korea) which is building a wall builds it to stop commerce or registered immigration. In all cases where countries build walls (literal or no) they are doing it to prevent illegal border crossings, and in all cases the illegal border crossings reached sufficiently large numbers for them to consider it as an option. There are many countries in the world where if you try to illegally cross the border they don't arrest you, they don't expel you, they just shoot you. And you can still go there if you apply for a visa. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Jul 23, 2016 at 12:09

4 Answers 4


We actually have a historical precedent, though at an earlier tech level, in our world: China.

The Chinese were the first great explorers. They had (for the time) huge ocean-going sailing ships. They had sailed around India and Africa and possibly as far as Europe. They had probably discovered North America. They were on the verge of creating a British Empire centuries before the British did. And then ....

A dynasty came to an end. The new emperor was insecure. His administration felt threatened by the new and the foreign. So the country turned inwards and backwards. The fleet was burned. It became a capital crime to sail outside coastal waters. Trade outside China's land Borders was heavily discouraged. New inventions likewise, if not actually banned. Traditional ways were encouraged. It "worked'. Social stability was re-attained, but at a price.

China ceased to develop while the "barbarians" in Europe first caught up and then surpassed China. When they in turn started exploring, China was effectively defenceless against fleets that they could no longer match and highly developed versions of the canons that China invented first!

So in answer to the question: yes, in the medium term. But in the long term a society that cuts itself off and turns inward will at best stagnate, while the rest of the world advances.

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    $\begingroup$ Beat me to it! Isolationist China is a great example of what can and has happened. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2016 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ Also Japan and Korea, though the Koreans were trying to avoid the Chinese and Japanese $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Jul 23, 2016 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ Re: "[The Chinese] had sailed around India and Africa to Europe": Do you have a citation for this? As far as I'm aware, they're only known to have sailed as far as East Africa. $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Jul 23, 2016 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ruakh telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/1386655/… $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Jul 24, 2016 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ @nigel222: Thanks, but that article does not support your claim; even Menzies, the guy who's claiming that the Chinese had circumnavigated the globe, is not quoted as arguing that the Chinese had reached Europe, only that their maps had. $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Jul 25, 2016 at 2:32

This country (let's call it Wallistan) could stay quite powerful for quite long. Odds are that this won't last forever.

  • Trade works on the basis of comparative advantage. Industries in the isolationist country would have a smaller pool to compare their advantages, so they gain less from trade.
  • If a blue-collar worker in Wallistan needs to earn twice as much as a worker in China or India to make ends meet, then products from Wallistan will be more expensive. A wage in Wallistan will buy less for the average citizen.
  • Alternatively, services and industry in Wallistan might go for robotics instead of workers. That could replace many low-skilled jobs abroad (textile factories in Bangladesh, call centers in India) by a few high-skilled jobs at home.
  • On the other hand, purely capitalist models fail to capture a national economy. It pays for the individual corporation to fire a worker at home and to pay a worker abroad or a robot less. But if all corporations do that, the taxes will skyrocket to fund even a minimal welfare system.

Wallistan starts with excellent universites and a halfway decent school system. This would degrade slowly.

  • Many researchers would stay. They could collaborate and exchange data with many others in Wallistan.
  • Even if cooperation with scientists abroad is technically not forbidden, it will slow down. Wallistan's industry will use different standards, so a drug or a car that is tested and certified safe in Wallistan would have to be tested again for sale abroad. Wallistan's internet browser won't use quite the same interpretation of the HTML standard, so foreign sites won't work right. Researchers from Wallistan would have to duplicate foreign inventions instead of licensing them.

The walls dont make difference, since all countrys have controlled borders to one extent or another.

In my view the most important aspect for economic growth if this withdrawn country is Intelectual Property (IP)

We can assume that the other counties of this alternate earth have various treaties and laws which protect investments in new inventions and technology.

Also because they trade with each other an invention in one country will be marketed to the rest of the world. So the invention spreads and becomes available in all countries.

However the isolationist country will not import the new invention. They may copy it, but in the senario you describe it sounds like the people would look with distain on foreign inventions, news and media broadcasts etc. Also, manufacturing the product without importing parts will make it much harder/expensive to produce.

If a new invention occurs within the isolationist country however, the rest of the world is free of IP law restrictions and competition from the origional inventor. The invention can be duplicated and produced in the other countries.

Unless the isolatonist country has a majority of the worlds population and resources, or the rest if the world is hampered with war, or similar isolationist principles; I think it would fall behind techologically and hence economically

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    $\begingroup$ So the invention spreads and becomes available in all countries. - they don't, simply don't. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jul 23, 2016 at 11:45

For a time we probably could but just look at Japan, pretty Industrial Revolution Japan close itself off from all foreign influences, literally executing any Foreigner who entered its borders. Because this it missed out on the benefits of foreign trade as well as the Industrial Revolution. It's still had horses and Samurai when we were building steamship, and Gatling guns. In our modern world we have the internet so it wouldn't be completely closed off from new technology, but we would be completely closed off from foreign trade. This would cause serious problems for our economy.

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    $\begingroup$ Tom Cruise movies don't make for a good history reference material. $\endgroup$
    – scrwtp
    Jul 23, 2016 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @scrwtp the hell you're talking about what movie I Am referencing my history book I have no idea what you are a referring to. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2016 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, automatic reaction to the gatling gun comment. Anyways, your history book has a very simplified view of things. Japan wasn't 100% cut off from the world during the isolation period. They maintained limited trade with some western powers and neighboring countries. Likewise, there was a limited influx of western scientific knowledge during that period, even without the internet. $\endgroup$
    – scrwtp
    Jul 25, 2016 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @scrwtp I yeah I knew that. It is true that a Dutch were allowed to come once a year to trade on the agreement that the didn't leave the cost, but for the most part yes they were cut off from the rest of society. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2016 at 3:11

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