- - Thursday, December 25, 2014

A shift in career ambitions for America’s young and talented is underway — and the future of health care affordability depends on us figuring out how to speed it up.

A decade ago, Richard Florida’s best-selling book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” proffered a glimpse into the minds of America’s young job seekers, suggesting the best and brightest among them placed a premium on where they work, preferring hip towns to has-been cities. Local governments around the country took the bait and implemented a range of makeover plans and policies designed to attract this wave of employable talent.

Fast-forward to today, and it looks like smart young people are just getting pickier. According to this year’s Millennial Impact Report from the Case Foundation, young people overwhelmingly prioritize workplaces where they feel they make a difference in the world.

This heightened preference for purpose at work is not just about choosing the right employer; it’s about choosing the right kind of career.

For those with big ambitions, you can divide the choice into two career camps: market entrepreneurs, where success is determined by how much value you create for others, and political technocrats, where success is determined by how much value you reallocate.

Obamacare architect and “reallocative” class archetype Jonathan Gruber’s recent fall from grace in the public eye is a fitting exclamation point on an emerging trend that has the federal technocrati worried: According to the Office of Personnel Management, young people don’t want to work for them.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed this with findings from the brand consulting firm Universum that showed the percentage of students interested in working for the federal government has declined over the past four years. While Mr. Gruber technically hangs his hat at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the impact of his infamy is a relevant cultural marker for what will animate the ambitions of the next generation’s best and brightest.

Take, for example, the youngest female self-made billionaire in the United States, Elizabeth Holmes. She recently gave a telling explanation for why she started her diagnostics company, Theranos.

In short, she wanted to save the world and, though international aid was in her DNA, she “started to realize that a company” could be the best vehicle for doing that. She was right. Theranos promises to revolutionize blood testing in the developed and developing worlds by making it easier, quicker and cheaper to get a lot of information from a little drop of blood.

In an era when the seemingly most powerful people and institutions in the world are powerless to deliver on promises of health care access and affordability, Ms. Holmes’ singular achievement demands our careful attention. Had a younger Ms. Holmes failed to see herself making a difference as a value-creating entrepreneur and instead followed her presumed path of reallocating value through international aid, such an incredible contribution to humanity might never have happened.

Mr. Gruber, on the other hand, chose to direct his ambitions through the political process relying on government mandate, not consumer choice, to satisfy people’s needs. According to a recent Gallup poll, however, the majority of people are not satisfied. While his assessment of American voters’ intelligence is a mark against him, Mr. Gruber could have chosen, like Ms. Holmes, to use his considerable brainpower to serve health care consumers through value-creating entrepreneurship.

Just how entrepreneurs like Ms. Holmes choose to channel their creative ambitions can largely determine not just the future of an industry, but also the productive potential of society as a whole. So, how do we get more Ms. Holmeses and fewer Mr. Grubers?

The most recent report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual assessment of entrepreneurial aspirations and attitudes performed through a partnership of London Business School and Babson College, ties beliefs about the attractiveness of becoming a value-creating entrepreneur to two factors: whether society affords such entrepreneurs high status and whether the media cover entrepreneurs in a positive light.

We must ask ourselves: Do our best and brightest aspire to create value, like Elizabeth Holmes, or simply reallocate it, like Jonathan Gruber? Whom we choose to celebrate will influence the answer. If recent trends continue in the United States, more and more talented young people will see through the false heroics of the “reallocative” class and, instead, join the real heroes meeting social needs through market innovation.

⦁ Matt Warner is the vice president of programs and institute relations for Atlas Network.

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