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Unfinished Legacy: President Reagan and the Socrates Project Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Tue, Nov 30, 2010, 10:08 am

President Reagan established a proud legacy during his two terms in office, the philosophical hallmarks of which were a reduction in the size of the federal government and empowerment of the private sector of the economy.  What is not fully appreciated is that Reagan intended another aspect, which should still be added.  Reagan started a process whereby he would overlay this aspect through executive order, at least initially.  Unfortunately his attempt to provide a technology strategy and vision did not survive the follow-on George Herbert Walker Bush administration. 

The executive order was drafted towards the end of his second term and would have created a government agency somewhat on par with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  The agency would have answered directly to the White House and had the mission and the means to enable U.S. government organizations and American companies to work together in a highly coherent and unprecedented fashion.  Reagan essentially tried to provide the marketplace, as well as select government planning agencies, with new tools that were possible with the onset of the Information Age. 

Reagan was convinced that this additional aspect would ensure not only America ’s economic survival, but also its preeminence and continued economic superpower status.  On the basis of his draft executive order, Michael C. Sekora established a prototype program called the Socrates Project within the U.S. intelligence community.  The program was aimed at improving America ’s economic efficiencies and reducing the frictional components of the marketplace through better information, particularly in those domains relating to technology.  The program design was meant specifically to address an apparent decline in U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness worldwide.  The Socrates Project’s mission was two-fold: to determine the underlying cause of America ’s declining competitiveness; and to use this determination to propose the subsequent development of means to reverse the economic decline. 

To determine the cause of America ’s declining competitiveness, the Socrates team used all source intelligence to generate a holistic, bird’s eye view of competition worldwide.  The team’s view and understanding went well beyond the inferior data that is still the best available to most university professors, think tank analysts and consultants, in terms of scope and completeness. 

What the Socrates team determined was that the source of America ’s declining competitiveness followed an epochal shift in thinking that took place after World War II.  It was not directly related to investment or to patterns of destruction, so much as it was based on the decision-makers’ response to post-war political and economic conditions.  At the end of World War II decision-makers throughout the U.S. began shifting away from technology-based planning and began adopting economic-based planning instead.  Within a few years, the economic-based planning model had become the standard, all-but-unchallenged foundation for decision-making throughout U.S. industry, government and academe.  At the same time, much of the rest of the world continued refining and utilizing technology-based models of planning. 

In technology-based planning the foundation for decision-making is the acquisition and utilization of technology, where technology is defined as any application of science to accomplish a function, in order to produce a better product or service.  Based on targeted information, technology can be manipulated, offensively and defensively in a chess-like way, in order to acquire and maintain competitive advantage.  In contrast, economic-based planning models lead to manipulation of funds as the foundation for decision-making.  The measure of success based on economic-based thinking, is the efficiency at which one manipulates so-called economic drivers.  Economic manipulation, unlike its technological counterpart is unrelated to anything real or tangible and is not even integrally coordinated with the nation’s wealth or productive outputs per se. 

What was also obvious to the Socrates team from their unique bird’s eye view of competition, was that  countries like China and India were using technology-based planning to catch up and further, to undercut America’s ability to generate or regain competitive advantage.  Indeed, they were rapidly transforming themselves into world economic superpowers as our status slipped and the U.S. position was being eclipsed.  While we in the U.S. were coming up with increasingly sophisticated economic shell games to maximize profits, China and India were systematically outmaneuvering us in the acquisition and utilization of technology to eliminate our ability to produce products and services that had competitive advantage in foreign markets, and increasingly in our own domestic markets. 

With the global bait and switch nearly completed and the United States suffering through its worst recession since the Great Depression, Reagan’s initiative with Socrates seems positively prescient.  With revitalized conservatism in vogue again since the last election, tea partiers and conservatives in the next Congress would do well, not only to follow the fiscally prudent “Roadmap for America’s Future” laid out by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), but to revisit the national strategic level effort required which Ronald Reagan suggested before we got into this mess. 


Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford .  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary and is currently Chairman of the Central Texas Tea Party.  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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Comments (8)add comment
written by Austin , December 01, 2010

Could you point where Reagan (or any Republican president) reduced the size of government? Every year Reagan was president federal spending went up, federal borrowing went up, the federal payroll went up and the public debt went up. In fact he created more debt than all previous presidents combined.

And yet he is revered as a "fiscal conservative". Go figure.

written by Doofusleven , December 01, 2010

Your first sentaence contains a really big whopper. To say that the size of the federal government was reduced under Ronald Reagan is flatly wrong. He increased government size, increased federal spending and increased the deficit. Only under Democratic presidents has the deficit been reduced. Reagan was a lousy president.

written by ElHombre , December 01, 2010

"[Reagan created]...a reduction in the size of the federal government and empowerment of the private sector of the economy."

I am curious by what measurements Mr. Ridlle uses. There was never any reduction in gov't under Reagan. He quadrupled the debt! And 'empowerment of the private sector' must be what conservatives have renamed deregulation. Y'all remember deregulation, don't you? It's what started the ball rolling on the economic collapse.

written by Todd Winston , December 02, 2010

While, I disagree with some of your article. I agree with the heart of it. We must start creating and innovating, and stop this cooking the books crap. I want my boys to grow up with the ability to be on the cutting edge. Not finding ways to swindle money.

written by Austin , December 03, 2010

No response from Mr. Riddle, I see. I will have to consider that in deciding whether to bother reading any more posts from him.

written by ElHombre , December 04, 2010

By the way, conservatives. If you really want to start bringing jobs back, you could easily start by eliminating the tax loopholes which help make it possible. Mind you, it would RAISE TAXES on companies which do so.

It's just a matter of where your priorities are.

written by Austin , December 04, 2010

Funny thing is that under Eisenhower the top tax rate was over 90%, over 60% of the taxes were paid by corporations (as opposed to less than 20% today) and yet the economy boomed, people could save money, and families could get by nicely with just one income. In other words, the Good Old Days.

written by History , December 06, 2010

Austin, I can't find a single source that supports all your assertions. Of course, they were president Reagan's "philosophical hallmarks" as stated even if the political context and specific economy produced a mixed record based on data. Nondefense discretionary spending in fact went down (there was an obvious Cold War to win). Several studies show the size of the federal government declined in his first term but then went up slightly during his second term. None of which addresses the Socrates Project or Reagan's intent to pursue strategic level economic policy.


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