I recently looked for empirical papers that looked at one way to compare meritocracy to some concrete alternative: Are Ivy grads in today’s SAT era better or worse than those that graduated before the SAT era?
George W. Bush, for example, was at Yale just around the time that SAT scores started mattering more, and some profiles of W noticed the tension in the Ivies at the time—old money competing in the classroom against smart outsiders. It was just a fast-enough transition that an enterprising economist could try using it as a natural experiment that asked a question like this:
Are there more or fewer Nobel laureates/U.S. Senators/patent holders/CEOs/leading philanthropists from one era rather than another, adjusting for the expected time trends? Does it look like a structural break in graduate quality?