Ta-Nehesi Coates blogs about the Chris Hayes book on meritocracy, which I have to read sometime. I gather part of the thesis is the growth of exams at every stage along the line of bringing up kids--NYC parents even have their pre-K kids tested because getting into the right nursery school leads to the right k-6 school, and so on and so on. And Hayes says meritocracies become oligarchies--the children of meritocrats become good on tests themselves.
As I commented, the rise of the civil service in 1883 meant a diminishing of the influence of politics, patronage, and fraud, which was mostly good. And the military is pretty meritocratic: everyone starts as an E-1 or O-1, except maybe lawyers, doctors, and ministers.