Ronald Reagan Had It Right – Bring Back Project Socrates
Michael C. Sekora
To restore the economic health of the United States and its people, decision makers in
government, industry and academia must address America's rapidly declining
competitiveness, the source of the present economic crisis. To stem the economic and
social decline, U.S. decision makers must make a major shift in their thinking. They must
come to a new understanding of what constitutes true economic competitiveness. The
current government-funded stimulus programs do not address the underlying source of
the U.S. economic crisis.
During the Reagan administration, a program called the Socrates Project was initiated
within the U.S. intelligence community to address America's competitiveness challenge. I
was in charge of that project. Socrates' mission was to determine the true source of
America's declining competitiveness, and develop programs to address the source of the
The Socrates Project team knew that the problem was far deeper than the one-liners being
used by politicians, like "Japan Inc." We knew that "leveling the playing field" was not a
strategy for economic revival. The Socrates solution took advantage of the vast resources
of information regarding technology development that was being gathered by the U.S.
intelligence community. For the first time in history, Project Socrates was able to create a
holistic view and understanding of all competition worldwide.
In its scope and completeness, this view went far beyond the narrow slices of data that
were available to the thousands of professors, economists and consultants addressing the
issue of competitiveness. As a result, the conclusions that the Socrates team derived
about competitiveness in general and about the United States in particular were in direct
opposition to what professionals and policymakers had been saying for years.
The Socrates Project concluded that to rebuild America's economic competitiveness,
decision makers in federal and state governments, industry, academia and the press
needed to make a fundamental shift in their thinking. It was imperative for the United
States to drop its focus on "economic-based" planning and move BACK to technology-
based planning. If it did not do so, then there would be little hope for an economic revival.
The same situation holds true today, but the stakes are even higher.
The Socrates Project found that the world was poised for the next revolutionary step in
technology-based planning. We called it the "automated innovation revolution." Socrates
recommended that the United States lead this revolution and it developed technology-
mapping tools to do so. In order to generate the maximum economic competitive
advantage for the United States, it was understood that these tools needed to be used by
federal, state and local governments and organizations to develop specific technology
strategies. This way, a full range of U.S. resources could be utilized in a coherent,
flexible, and independent fashion that was not in conflict with America's democratic
Today, the United States must make the shift from economic-based planning back to
technology-based planning. Technology-based planning is what was used to build the
United States into a superpower. The focus on creating the very best products and
services -- using advanced and revolutionary technologies to satisfy customer needs -- is
what kept American companies competitive. This technology-based focus on planning is
now being used by China and India to build themselves into superpowers.
Meanwhile, the United States has shifted to a focus on economic maneuvering to
maximize the bottom-line. The results speak for themselves. Economic-based planning is
the primary cause of America's competitiveness problems over the last three decades.
Because policymakers have been looking solely at the economic side of the equation,
they have not seen the deterioration.
In economic-based planning, every decision made by an organization is focused on
acquiring and utilizing funds to generate maximum profit. This is taught at all U.S.
business schools and it has been used since the end of World War II.
In technology-based planning, the technology is being manipulated, not money. Only
when a culture of technology exploitation is adopted, can an organization execute other
types of planning like economic optimization.
Many U.S. companies and organizations claim that they use technology planning. They
don't. Rather, they execute economic-based planning for technology. Their planning
consists of how to use money to fund research and development. They manipulate
funding, not technology.
Because technology exploitation is the foundation of all competitive advantage,
technology-based planning is the most effective basis for addressing the wide range of
functions that comprise U.S. economic competitiveness, such as trade policy, intellectual
property laws and upgrading the country's infrastructure. Using technology-based
planning to address all functions of American society is the most effective way to
increase economic competitiveness and address the challenge associated with China's
rapidly expanding worldwide economic dominance.
In the private sector, technology-based planning is the most effective basis for decision
making. The process for generating a competitive technological advantage should
become the basis for every decision within an organization. Focusing on building a
dominant technology advantage -- as opposed to a financial one -- stops the use of
inefficient guess-work for decisions that are based on whims, illogical factors, unknown
market conditions and in deciphering the "secret sauces" of competitors. Instead, decision
making becomes logical, systematic, efficient and effective.
In the public sector, technology-based planning needs to be the central focus for policies
involving trade, taxation, innovation, patents and intellectual property law; vocational
training and education; university research and education; and improvements to
infrastructure. In order for U.S. companies and institutions to maintain a competitive
advantage relative to the rest of the world, these functions should no longer be addressed
with economic-based planning.
The federal government's Socrates Project developed what it called a computer-based
"Techspace Map." This tool provided a precise and detailed representation of current and
emerging technologies. It was used to develop technology strategies for high-priority
government programs in the 1980s, and it led to investments that resulted in the digital
revolution of the 1990s. President Ronald Reagan was a strong supporter of the Socrates
Project. He had an executive order drafted creating a new government organization for
the project and gave it the responsibility to support U.S. government agencies and the
But the first Bush administration turned against the idea of technology-based planning
and, in its embrace of economic-based planning, terminated the Socrates Project. Since
then, the principals involved in Socrates have stayed active and have upgraded the
The Socrates Project worked in the 1980s, and it is now time for it to work again. The
United States must embrace a technology-based approach to its competitive challenges. A
"Techspace Map" can be used by federal, state and local governments to help build
competitive companies and regions. It can be used by corporations to regain
technological superiority and market dominance. And it can be used to benchmark
America's leading competitors that have embraced and are successfully deploying a
technology-focused strategy for global dominance -- at the expense of American
industries and millions of American workers.