What should we do with Stephen Enke?

If I ever wanted a bad guy to feature in my stories, I had it: Stephen Enke (1916-1974).

Enke is recorded as one of the most prolific writers in top journal in economics around the 1940s, specializing in innocuous topics such as monopolistic competition (Chamberlin was in his PhD committee at Harvard) and international trade.

But around late 1940s, he started writing on subjects with a more charged and dubious moral dimension. One of the first economists hired by the RAND Coporation, he founded the Logistics Department there in 1953. In his researches at Rand, he had no scruple pondering questions of life and death for millions of people in terms of  financial cost and benefits. He was far from being alone, would you immediately reply. I know, but Enke has pushed the cost-benefit logic several steps beyond.

Enke left RAND in 1958, and in 1959 seems to have spent a year in India studying the explosion of demographics. One of his  solutions to the “population problem” was to propose the payment of cash bonus to Indian males accepting sterilization through vasectomy (he estimated for the Review of Economics and Statistics that the rational payment to the sterilized person should amount to 700 rupees).

During the 1960s, Enke visited South Africa and Rhodesia. One of his contributions that I have been able to retrieve was a piece entitled: “Why should we apologize for recent colonialism?”, published in Optima, the journal of a local holding. In my recollection, this article was detailing the great economic benefits brought by colonial countries to Africa, very much in line with Enke’s approach to other social issues.

Then after a 5-year stint as professor of economics at Duke, among many other duties that retained him often in Washington, in 1968 Enke became the manager of economic development programs for Technical Military Planning Operation – TEMPO (General Electric’s  Center for Advanced Studies at Santa Barbara, California). There, he continued to work on “economic effects of slowing population growth” but also on “the economy of South Vietnam”, according to some archives held by the Hoover Institute.

Overall, Enke is an economist that does not figure in the gallery of portrait of my heroes. So I was quite disconcerted to find, in relation to my researches on economists,  McCarthyism and the Owen Lattimore affair (sorry for this bit of self-promotion), that Enke did not stand on the side I expected.

In 1949, he had refused to sign the loyalty oath put in place by the University of California. I don’t have the record at hand, but appearing before some committee of professors, he stated that he had complied to many security checks to join the RAND Corporation, but did not see why he would have to undergo the same kind of scrutiny coming from the Regents of a university. It is not clear whether or not he was ultimately fired from UCLA (Robert Leonard in his “War as a simple problem” 1991 article says he was, but new archival sources would show that Enke finally complied).

In 1953, when solicited by Fritz Machlup to donate some money for the defense of the principal target of McCarthy, Owen Lattimore from the University of Johns Hopkins, Enke’s reply was the following (click on the pic to enlarge it):

Enke to Machlup, Feb 17, 1953. Machlup papers, Hoover Institution Archives.
Enke to Machlup, Feb 17, 1953. Machlup papers, Hoover Institution Archives.

This facet of Enke does not fit squarely with the cold warrior figure he was in other respects.

So, what should we do with Stephen Enke? I am not calling for a judgment of praise or condemnation (so “out” the bad guy story). I just try to understand this career and positions which taken together, do not make complete sense to me. Having access to his family archives (if any) or the memory of his former colleagues would help, I suppose.