Meritocracy tends to confuse a very practical sense of merit with a more abstract and moral one. An individual may deserve a high-paying job or admission to a selective college because they are productive or qualified. However, in a moral sense, individuals do not merit the skills and abilities they are born with, nor do they merit the environments they were born into that allowed them to develop those skills.
Economists like to think of much of their work as a scientific description of the world, free of moral or ethical content. The people who write and think about ethics and economics are engaged in normative economics, while those who describe the world as it is practice positive economics.
Making the case that economists should actually read Adam Smith
In Adam Smith’s classic book “The Wealth of Nations” he argues that the production of a country can be divided into three parts: the rent of land; the wages of labour; and the profits of stock.
Market norms differ from social norms and our society has been moving in the direction of embracing market norms even in non-market arenas.
One of the reasons people may perceive themselves as being worse off even though average GDP is increasing is because they are indeed worse off.