Understanding our dependencies

Our cost of living is about far more than the price of essential goods.

This fall Liz Truss became the shortest-lived UK prime minister on record. Why? Because she insisted on an ideological answer to a very pragmatic problem. She kept saying “I can fix this,” whereas the real answer was, “It depends.”

In management-speak this is the notion of dependencies. A dependency describes the relationship among activities, specifying the particular order in which they need to be performed. Like a lot of management-speak, it’s glorified common sense. A key skill of management is to keep control of your dependencies so you’re not paying a workforce to sit idle in a factory waiting three weeks for the raw materials to arrive.

That’s tough enough when managing a company. Imagine trying to manage all the dependencies when you’re running a country. The UK is in a crisis right now because the dependencies have gotten way out of control: our degree of dependency is exposed, and our vulnerability is laid bare. It’s a horrible feeling to discover how vulnerable you are and to feel so exposed. But once we’ve gotten used to it, we perhaps need to attend to what this sense of vulnerability is telling us. It’s revealing the host of dependencies that, when they go well, we take for granted and even feel entitled to.