What can a country do to become self sufficient in isolation and can it improve its technology as fast as countries such as the USA, Japan, or Russia?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if this can be answered without getting closed because too opinion based or too broad $\endgroup$ – Vylix Apr 20 '17 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ We have discussed city sieges before; you can use the search feature to find those questions. Some countries are similar in size to some cities, while others are far larger, but may or may not be heavily populated. (Compare something like Singapore or Hong Kong to Russia, Canada or Australia.) A list of enabling things could probably be put together, but isn't necessarily what the Stack Exchange Q&A format does best. I'm not sure how this really applies to building a fictional world, but I guess it might. You should edit your question to flesh it out a little as well as narrow it down. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 20 '17 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure of your examples: Japan needs to import a lot of fossil fuels and resources (and it is difficult to improve your technology if you don't have the resources to build them); USA "imports" cheap workforce and intellectual elites, and quite a lot of resources. $\endgroup$ – Taladris Apr 20 '17 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking about a country that wasn't isolated and now is (rest of the world shuns them or whatever), or one that has always been isolated? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Apr 20 '17 at 22:12

Tricky question. Isolation is not a problem, per se, as long as the country has access to more or less everything that is needed to produce the topmost technology of the time - oil wouldn't be necessary in roman times, or maybe in the XXIIIth century, but an isolated country without oil today is pretty much doomed if it can't trade with anyone else.

The problem with isolation is that most of the time innovation comes through competition, and an isolated country does not have anyone to compete against, which makes it to stall. Ancient Egypt through its middle period, Japan under the shogunate or China up until the british empire came in are examples of very powerful countries which paid dearly their isolation by falling back in technology and science against the rest of the world.

Ancient Greece, however, developed amazing scientific progress (and an awesome military prowess) with nearly no contact with the external world, but they weren't a country, in the modern sense, but a lot of independent city-countries (poleis) which were constantly fighting among themselves, and they weren't really isolated - they had contact with egyptians, Phoenicians and other civilizations around.

In theory, you could force development through competition between your own country, but that's easier said than done. Competition is usually a death match where there's only a winner and losers are obliterated. Even if it's not a military contest, it's the same with economical competition: a company will always try to crush the competence and become a monopoly. A rich region will grow rich by making the rest of country poorer. If that can't be done - because competition is tough or there are laws trying to promote equality in the competition - then they usually settle for regions of influence (companies colluding in prices, banks scheming to set a common rate of interest, states are forbidden to raise or low taxes to foster external inversion, etc...). In the end, the amount of intra-country competition and its fierceness is way lower than the one you would suffer at the hands of external competitors and so your innovation pace starts falling back behind that of the rest.

  • $\begingroup$ But how about futurisitc state if we eliminate need for oil can it still survie in isolation. $\endgroup$ – Hegao Apr 20 '17 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @swswsws Survive? Sure, why not? As long as it is not invaded by a foreign power, North Korea can survive for as much time as it wants. It's improving its technology as fast of the USA the part is going to fail miserably. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Apr 20 '17 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ Ancient Greece "with nearly no contact with the external world"? The Greeks who notoriously established colonies all around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea? The Greeks who provided most of the long-distance carrying trade in the antiquity? The Greeks whose founding epic poem, the Iliad, famously mentions dozens and dozens of foreign nations coming to the aid of the warring parties at Troy? The Greeks who spread their language from Gibraltar to Persia? There was no ancient nation more in contact with the outside world then the Greeks. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 20 '17 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP As I said, they weren't really isolated, but most of the things you say were accomplished AFTER the Greeks became the most powerful and advanced civilization of their time. So, the development happened mostly in "isolation", as the OP asked for, and development of trade and colonies throughout the Mediterranean came after. Spain or Britain also conquered great empires and spread their languages all over the world, but they could do so because their technology and military were the most advanced of the time. As for the Illiad, is a myth, not an historical source. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Apr 21 '17 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft: Your chronology is way off. The first Greek colonization began in the 11th century BCE (in the Greek dark ages between the Mycenean civilization and what we usually call the Greek civilization), followed by the second Greek colonization starting in the 8th century BCE at the very beginning of the classical period. The Greeks became "the most powerful and advanced civilization in the world" in the 5th and mostly the 4th century BCE... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 21 '17 at 8:13

It's very unlikely that any isolated country will independently match standard of living AND technology development of more open countries.

Self sufficiency (isolation) ignores the economic theory of comparative advantage. Trade between different societies enriches both - in terms of real wealth. This doesn't matter much in subsistence-level cultures, where most of the economy is centered around food and shelter. But it matters a lot when people want silk and gunpowder and fine steel and banking and washing machines and smartphones.

Basically, this means that an isolated economy is likely to be poorer (lower standard of living) and develop more slowly than a comparable trading economy. It doesn't help that the politics that led to isolation also often lead to corruption and cronyism...which sap the vitality of the closed economy even further.

Trade in ideas does not work the same as trade in goods and services...but foreign concepts that challenge the status quo are very important to progress in science and technology (and art and music and fashion, etc.)

It's certainly possible for the isolated economy to match some carefully-chosen standard-of-living benchmarks (at the cost of distorting the rest of the economy), and it's certainly possible for the isolated country to match some carefully-chosen technological benchmarks (North Korea has nuclear weapons). But matching a wide net of those measures seems highly unlikely.

This has been a challenge for closed regimes since the 1850s - they want the progress, and they want the smartphones for their ruling class, but don't want their people to see the disparity in living standards and become annoyed. An excellent example of this challenge is China before and after opening in the 1970s.

  • $\begingroup$ I would contend that North Korea developed their tech as a completely closed nation. They stole a good amounts of that tech and most of the rest came from individuals and organizations that fed them materials and technology to spite it adversaries (the US). North Korea probably had to do very little on their part to achieve this tech. $\endgroup$ – Sonvar May 6 '19 at 1:29

You answered your own question partially. Russia is such a country. Because it covers a lot of territory it has access not only to most wanted ingredients (which are needed for innovation), but also can sustain itself with its own food.

On the other hand Korea and Myanmar (Burma) are very isolated, but rely on outside help and export of their goods and services to sustain themselves.

Japan, on the other hand, made great innovations, but by using existing patents. So their technology improved because they came out of isolation.
BUT Japan is also an example of a country that shows that a certain technological level is enough for a country.

Keep in mind that the USA made technology leaps thanks to immigrants and non-native scientists.

  • $\begingroup$ I highly doubt Japan can feed themselves, let alone their industries. Add in an aging population, and a dependence on exports and I find their survival unlikely. $\endgroup$ – user2259716 Apr 20 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Japan was stagnated during its isolation. It went into isolation with 1600's tech and came out with 1600's tech and found a world vastly more superior to themselves. One of the main causes for the isolationist policies to fail was constant famines throughout the 1800's and constant violation of their policies by outside nations. If they did not open themselves up and rapidly advance, it was only a matter of time before they would have been invaded and conquered. They understood that quicker than China did, and China paid a hefty price. $\endgroup$ – Sonvar May 6 '19 at 0:51

Japan isolated itself to the point that Japanese overseas were not allowed to come back on pain of execution, and changed its social and industrial system incredibly quickly. All that was needed was the hierarchical authority structure to enforce it and the resources to power it.

So a ruthless authority with clear goals and near total power and the natural resources in terms of ores and food to feed the human resources and industrial machine, and a focus on education and incentives in the requisite areas.


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