“How Neoliberalism Remade the Model Minority Myth.” Representations 163 (2023): 79–99.
Special Issue on “Proxy Wars,” edited by Kent Puckett and Yoon Sun Lee. Articles by Karl Britto, Penny Fielding, Kelly M. Rich, Paul Nadal, Vaughn Rasberry, and Jed Esty.
Abstract Drawing on archival documents, this essay probes one of the keywords of our times—"human capital," or the idea of education as an interest-bearing asset—to uncover how its late-1950s invention by Chicago neoliberals (Gary S. Becker and Theodore W. Schultz) depended on Asian models of educational performance. It argues that human capital theory's subsequent circulation in US mainstream discourse transformed the model minority myth’s depiction of Asian Americans from hyperassimilable minorities to exemplars of neoliberal economic personhood that I call homo asiaticus neoliberalis. The essay's central claim is that the now popular notion of education as human capital—far from being colorblind or race-neutral (see, e.g., the 2023 Supreme Court decision that banned race-conscious college admissions)—was from its moment of inception a pivotal Cold War instantiation of Asian racialization, in which “Asianness” became a way for neoliberals to exorcise the specter of black enslavement that inhered in their equation of “human” with “capital.”