I noted that it is probably reasonable for people to be wary of things introducing themselves as ‘efficiency’, since maximization of specific metrics has some tendency to go badly.

On the other hand, ‘efficiency’ doesn’t mean anything about building explicit or quantitative machinery. It just means getting a lot of the desired output per input. So one might wonder why, if these explicit efforts would tend to make things worse for our actual goals, we would pursue efficiency in such ways, and continue to call that ‘efficiency’. For those who think quantitative pursuit of well-defined goals has been a bad strategy overall, shouldn’t ‘efficient daycare’ suggest a daycare where we have used our best intuitions for holistically improving the experience?

I think one reason why not is that you don’t tend to have much evidence that a thing is efficient unless you are in the business of making quantitative measurements. You are more likely to say ‘this daycare is unusually efficient’ if you have been measuring ‘costs of providing legally adequate childcare’ across different centers, than if you have been observing children and workshopping policies for their thriving. If you have been doing the latter, you will probably just call it something else.

It seems to me that we would be better with more specific concepts though, rather than conflating striving with an eye to a defined metric and the doing the best we can do with our materials. I suggest narrow efficiency and inclusive efficiency. An assembly line is narrowly efficient. Utopia is inclusively efficient.