Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration (such as business administration) wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their "merits", namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or examinations. The "most common definition of meritocracy conceptualizes merit in terms of tested competency and ability, and most likely as measured by IQ or standardized achievement tests."
Meritocracy itself is not a form of government, but rather an ideology. Government positions in a meritocracy would be given to individuals based upon possession of certain merits which could range from intelligence to morality to general aptitude to specific knowledge.
Supporters of meritocracies do not necessarily agree on the nature of "merit", however they tend to agree that "merit" itself should be a primary consideration during evaluation.
Although meritocracy as a term is a relatively recent invention, the concept originates from the works of Confucius, along with other Legalist and Confucian philosophers. The first meritocracy was implemented in the 2nd century BC, by the Han Dynasty, which introduced the world's first civil service exams evaluating the "merit" of officials. Meritocracy as a concept spread from China to British India during the 17th century, and then into continental Europe and the United States. With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe. In the United States, the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 prompted the replacement of the American Spoils System with a meritocracy. In 1883, The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was passed, stipulating government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit through competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation.
Like "utilitarian" and "pragmatic", the word "meritocratic" has also developed a broader definition, used to refer to any government run by "a ruling or influential class of educated or able people." This is in contrast to the term originally coined by Michael Young in 1958, who critically defined it as a system where "merit is equated with intelligence-plus-effort, its possessors are identified at an early age and selected for appropriate intensive education, and there is an obsession with quantification, test-scoring, and qualifications." Meritocracy in its wider sense can be any general act of judgment upon the basis of people's various demonstrated merits; such acts are frequently described in sociology and psychology. Thus, the merits may extend beyond intelligence and education to any mental or physical talent or to work ethic. In rhetoric, the demonstration of one's merit regarding mastery of a particular subject is an essential task most directly related to the Aristotelian term Ethos. The equivalent Aristotelian conception of meritocracy is based upon aristocratic or oligarchical structures rather than in the context of the modern state.
The most common form of meritocratic screening found today is the college degree. Higher education is an imperfect meritocratic screening system for various reasons, such as lack of uniform standards worldwide, lack of scope (not all occupations and processes are included), and lack of access (some talented people never have an opportunity to participate because of the expense, most especially in developing countries). However, academic degrees serve some amount of meritocratic screening purpose in the absence of more refined methodology. Education alone, however, does not constitute a complete system, as meritocracy must automatically confer power and authority, which a degree independently does not accomplish.
Further information: Wikipedia article
Singapore claims to be a meritocracy. In the local context, this means that no racial group is given any artificial advantages over any other, but everyone has equal chances in life based on their own talents and enterprise. This is in contrast to neighbouring Malaysia, where ethnic Malays are granted special status in education, employment and finance. Racial equality and racial harmony are seen as a key ingredient in Singapore's success and stability.