But we didn't have a term for "meritocracy" until the twentieth century, when the British sociologist and politician Michael Young wrote a book in 1958 warning of how dangerous the world's relatively new method of establishing status might be. In his novel The Rise of the Meritocracy, Young portrayed a dystopian Britain in which status based on birth and lineage was replaced by status based on education and achievement. Young wasn't advocating for a return to the old system, but he did see grave dangers in the new embrace of meritocracy, eerily predicting that in this new world, status would still be accessible only to a select few: those who had access to elite education. As a result, meritocracy would produce a new social stratification and a sense of moral exceptionalism.
Though Young's book was meant as a cautionary satire, the idea of meritocracy took off, all negative connotations forgotten, as the term for a new equality of opportunity [...]
That's when Young penned an op-ed for the Guardian in which he confessed he was "sadly disappointed" by his book's effect. "It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit," he wrote. "It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room it in it for others ... If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get. They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the benefitciares of neptosim. The newcomesr can actually believe they have morality on their side. As a result, general inequality has been becoming more grievous with every year that passes."