1. Not always. Compare European and American work ethic. Europeans are focused on getting shit done and going home when it's time to clock out. Americans put in 60+ hour weeks to look busy. Europeans get the same amount done in less time, they're more efficient and they also have more free time (and therefore better lives) as a result.
That's also an issue with hourly pay. You're typically paid on quantity of work, rather than quality.
2. A meritocracy absolutely does work. Western Europe is probably the most meritocratic place in the world and it also has the highest living standards and happiest people in the world. Not a coincidence.
Plus I'd argue that to be meritocratic you need a number of "socialist" policies in order to give everybody the opportunity to prove their worth. Those opportunities (and the fact there would be socialist policies in place even for people who couldn't make the most of them for whatever reason) would give a better life to the majority of people.
1. Those are some really dangerous stereotypes. What you describe has nothing to do with work ethics. Getting more done in fewer hours is not a sign of great ethics but a symptom of having to work fewer hours. There are countless studies proving that work efficiency increases with fewer work hours. Europeans have strong worker protection and lots of vacation and sick times. They are also required by law to work less. They get more done in fewer hours because they have to work fewer hours and as such have the ability and motivation to work efficiently.
US workers do not have that luxury. They are mostly paid by the hour. They do not have a social safety net, which increases stress and anxiety. So they naturally benefit from working less efficiently to not kill themselves and to get more money. They're also overall less educated, so some jobs that require good thinkers or skilled workers have to be done by lesser skilled workers. Also not their fault, but a mere symptom.
Don't forget that US citizens are also just humans and given the same circumstances they will perform just as well as European humans. Believing anything else borders on racism.
2. I'd argue a social safety net and a meritocracy do not mix. Unless that safety net is based on merit, whit it is absolutely not in Europe. I reject that western Europe operates in a meritocracy. Otherwise there wouldn't be so much incompetence among the elites.
1. Stereotypes they may be, but that doesn't meant they're not true. I'm not so sure about the American one (I don't know many Americans), but the European one fits me to a tee.
Wouldn't your explanation be the opposite though? ie. getting less done in the same hours due to having to work more hours? For me at least I'd get more done in less hours because I want to work less hours, rather than because I have to.
It's also definitely not racism. I'm not talking race here. I'm talking culture/education. You yourself just said different people perform the same in the same circumstances (ie. the social and educational circumstances).
2. A social safety net is pretty much required for a meritocracy to some extent. How would people from poorer backgrounds be able to prove their worth to society without one? And if you're not giving everybody the chance to prove themselves you're not really a meritocracy. You could argue that it's no longer needed after people reach adulthood/finish education, but then the idea of no second chances is kind of anti-meritocratic too, is it not? Just saying "if you're not good enough now, you'll never be good enough" is not only harsh, but also in many cases flat out wrong.
Western Europe isn't a meritocracy, no. But it's closer to it than anywhere else on the planet. It's the place where you're least disadvantaged by who your parents are and your upbringing and where you have the most chance to succeed based on your own merits.