Having my cereal and as quickly as possible scrolling through what happened overnight on Facebook when I come across this.
This provoked an interesting discussion (most times you see an exchange instead) which I thought my children should read when they have the time.
I told them in school they learned that may the best win, but this is often only partially true in real life. Meritocracy in practice is not about identifying and rewarding the best. That happens when you are looking for the top surgeon or litigator and a few other professions, all those that Nassim Taleb called Extremistan. In practice, meritocracy is about choosing the good enough and I like to offer them the example from nursing.
Nursing leaders and specialist nurses aside, bread and butter nursing is going to cheaper FTs. They perform the basics adequately (I didn't say competently) but come with language skills that make it difficult for them to communicate with most of our senior citizens, the main users of our hospitals. At this juncture, I must also add that the government say locals with local language skills do not want nursing jobs. Since the jobs must be done, foreigners are hired. If your parent coming to the hospital can't speak English to the Filipino nurse, you come along and help translate. Not good enough for you, but good enough to the hospital.
Good enough meritocracy in nursing means passable nursing skills minus language skills. When you do the sums and weigh their cost of labor, they get chosen. Eventually the few locals otherwise willing also do not want to join the profession because of the low pay and status. You are forced to put locals on another pay and career track or the pipeline to leadership and specialists positions will dry up.
Here is an example of passable skills. E.g., a foreign nurse who is clumsy at drawing blood from you and leaving a big bruise afterward and a local nurse which do an excellent job which I regularly experienced when I was a NS boy many years ago. The blood sample got drawn successfully regardless of how the arm look afterward. The foreign nurse, much cheaper is good enough because your arm don't scar much less die from this.
When you choose a profession, you have to bear in mind if you are entering a field where good enough will do or you have to be the best. Japan learnt this the hard way especially in consumer electronics and white goods when buyers refused to pay for quality beyond good enough.
There was a time when many products were poorly made and services poorly delivered. Meritocracy practically means making and doing the best to get chosen. That was also the hey days of Japanese manufacturing. Today most places can produce high quality good enough manufacture. Indian radiologists from the sub continent can interpret MRI and Catscans as well if not better than locals etc., We are in the age of Good Enough Meritocracy.
Once you get to Good Enough Meritocracy you no longer compete on excess and unnecessary quality but overall Quality to Cost measure. Singaporeans lose out. They want to do better but there are fewer and fewer opportunities which allow them to. On the ground people perceived themselves as either over educated or no opportunities to make use of their training. They realize they can't up their pay without the opportunities. They have done their best for themselves but now the system is against them and that is too big for them to overcome. The problem now becomes the government which valiantly and unsuccessfully try to explain it is either lower pay or no pay. Impossible task when ministers and civil service leaders are so highly paid.