We have a confusing relationship with meritocracy. We can't really believe in it too much or we would have to continually be self sacrificial. Can you imagine an honest salesman who said, 'There are several providers of what I am selling to you. You can look at it in terms of cost and value. We are not the best in terms of either of those metrics, but if you combine the two you get really good value for money. Of the top eight choices you have, I think we are the second best. So you shouldn't buy from us.'
The honest and human salesman may say, 'Our team works really hard at doing as good a job as we can. Things are always changing though so sometimes, in fact most times, I would actually buy our competitors stuff if I was completely neutral. The thing is I need to eat. I have bills to pay and have goals I am working towards. So, I can't wait for you to buy my product only when it is the best. I can promise we'll carry on trying to improve. Please buy from me.' Most of us know that is the real case and so we work with companies we like and deal with people we like. We cut people slack and hope for some ourselves.
Rewards in most fields flow, in theory, to those who are best at what they do. Framed like that, that makes sense and is appealing. We want a system where, for example, someone who isn't that good at their job eventually thinks they could do better somewhere else and moves on. In my experience, the vast majority of people aren't looking to be the best at something or find a job they are very good at. They work largely because they have to. They don't want to be the best. They are happy to help and want to be productive, but would actually be very happy if there was a three day weekend and they could work just in the mornings. It is great to love your work, but what if the things you love aren't really that useful to anyone else? You get a job.
So while a system that rewards the best may in fact lead the best to move and hunt for the perfect job, the big chunk of 'most people' may just be looking for business that is in fact personal. Work they are ok with, surrounded by people that are relatively nice to them. More Fridays. Less Mondays.
So we have competing desires. We want things to reflect skill and effort, but not too much, otherwise if we were being honest, most of the time we would be able to point to someone better than us. There are very few people in the world who can say they are definitely the best at what they do. In a purely meritocratic world, those people who ate the whole pie wouldn't have anyone left to play with.
Good thing we also like to share, and are slowly getting better at it.