Predictions are hard
Especially about the future.
I started running a couple of months ago and it turns out that doing something new is really hard. I couldn’t go for more than five minutes or so without needing to stop and walk for a bit to catch my breath. But I listened to all the internet advice and kept at it, so I could do one mile straight and then three and then four. And even though it still took me more than 30 minutes to do three miles, I could reliably get the first one done in under 10. Earlier this week, I ran 3 miles in 29 minutes and 30 seconds. I am hoping that if I keep working at it I will keep improving.
But I have to admit that doing things you’re not good at kind of sucks. One thing you see when you’re out running is lots of other people who run, and 99% of them are faster than me and in better shape. It’s a little embarrassing and I frequently have the sense that it would be better to just give up.
Here are the stats:
Predictions I made with 25% confidence — 0% correct.
60% confidence — 40% correct.
70% confidence — 29% correct (oof).
80% confidence — 67% correct.
90% confidence — 50% correct (oof again).
95% confidence — 100% correct.
This is a bad record. So bad in fact that I want to curl up in a ball and give up rather than try again. But I do think trying to keep this exercise in mind all year did lead me to be a little more restrained about tossing off wild, overconfident predictions than the average political pundit. So I’m going to try to keep working at it, do another round, and improve my predicting skills.
But first, an in-depth look at the forecasts.
What I predicted and why I was wrong (and sometimes right)
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win the Georgia Senate races (60%) YES
My forecasting principle here was “the candidate leading the polls will probably win.” This was a contrarian call at the time based on the history of Georgia runoffs, but my principle is better than history. For all the flaws of horse race polling, “the polls are probably right” is a good bet.
The same party wins both Senate races in Georgia (95%) YES
This one was obvious.
Joe Biden ends the year with his approval rating higher than his disapproval rating (70%) NO
I was predicting strong economic growth (which happened) and assumed it would lift Biden’s rating, which it did not — I think largely due to inflation.
Joe Biden ends the year with his approval rating above 50% (60%) NO
U.S. GDP growth in 2021 is the fastest of any year of the 21st century (80%) YES
The year-end unemployment rate is below 5% (80%) YES
The year-end unemployment rate is above 4% (80%) YES
I avoided being overly optimistic here.
Lakers win the NBA championship (25%) NO
Underrated how weird and disruptive the Covid-19 seasons would be.
Joe Biden ends the year as president (95%) YES
Not a particularly tough call.
Nancy Pelosi sets a definitive retirement schedule (60%) NO
A vacancy arises on the Supreme Court (70%) NO
I was mildly too optimistic about the Democratic Party’s geriatric leadership making responsible choices for the country.
The EU ends the year with more confirmed Covid-19 deaths than the US (60%) YES
The more stringent NPIs in Europe are just not that effective; I think American liberals get this now that Biden has been in office for a year, but there was some denial last winter.
Substack will still be around (95%) YES
People will still be writing takes asking if Substack is really sustainable (80%) YES
I was new at this and still found this chatter interesting.
Apple releases new iMacs powered by Apple silicon (90%) YES
Apple does not release a new Mac Pro powered by Apple silicon (70%) YES
In my real life, Apple gadgets news is my passion.
Monthly year-on-year core CPI growth does not go above 2% (70%) NO
Monthly year-on-year core CPI growth does not go above 3% (90%) NO
These forecasts were worse than I remembered, which is part of the value of explicit accountability. In my head, I remembered that I had misforecasted inflation. And I remembered that was in large part because I was implicitly assuming we wouldn’t get a stimulus nearly as large as ARP. But my real forecast was so low and so definitive that I’m pretty sure it would have been wrong even had ARP passed with $0 in stimulus. I was just not anticipating at all the bottlenecks in global commodity production, that the 2020 supply chain issues could get worse rather than better, and basically just had this totally wrong.
Realistically, I had just lived through so much undershooting of inflation targets that the idea of overshooting seemed more implausible to me than it should have.
Lloyd Austin not confirmed as Defense Secretary (60%) NO
This was a closer-run thing than people remember.
No federal tax increases are enacted (95%) YES
In retrospect, probably overconfident but I was right.
Biden administration unilaterally relieves some but not all student debt (80%) NO
I’m kind of surprised this didn’t happen months ago.
United States rejoins JCPOA and Iran resumes compliance (80%) NO
The negotiators on both sides here took surprisingly long to even get serious about talking.
Israel and Saudi Arabia establish official diplomatic relations (70%) NO
This is very much in the mix on the Saudi end, but as you can see I was just generally overestimating how much stuff would happen. I think governments around the world continue to be spending a lot of time sweating about Covid-19, and so a bunch of stuff that is loosely in the works is just not happening particularly quickly.
U.S. and China reach an agreement to lift Trump-era tariffs (70%) NO
This is another one where I actually wish I had a better understanding of why I was wrong. Mechanically, the explanation is that China is falling wildly short of the most basic commitments they made to the Trump administration in terms of increasing Chinese purchases of U.S. exports. If China was upholding that end of the deal, then you could fudge the other items on the agenda and have a nice photo op for everyone. But under the circumstances, I think Biden would look ridiculous cutting a deal, so he’s not. But why is China reneging on its promises to buy American manufactured goods?
I have no idea, and even though Chad Brown’s rundown of the numbers is very helpful, there’s no real explanation of Beijing’s thinking. Some of it is they fell short of their 2020 targets because of the pandemic, so fair enough. But into 2021 when economies are strong, they’re not even vaguely in the ballpark.
Slow Boring will exceed 10,000 paid members (70%) YES
The site’s been a big success despite my terrible track record of predicting things!
Predictions for next year
I’ve decided I should keep this more specifically focused on my main areas of coverage and not throw in any “fun” predictions or just random stuff I’m interested in.
Democrats lose both houses of Congress (90%)
Democrats lose at least two Senate seats (80%)
Democrats lose fewer than six Senate seats (80%)
Nancy Pelosi announces retirement plans (70%)
Stephen Breyer does not retire (60%)
Some version of Build Back Better passes (60%)
Joe Biden is still president (90%)
At least one Biden cabinet-rank official resigns (70%)
No military conflict between the PRC and Taiwan (a worryingly low 90%)
New U.S. sanctions on Russia (70%)
Saudi Arabia and Israel establish diplomatic relations (60%)
Fewer U.S. Covid deaths in 2022 than in 2021 (80%)
Emmanuel Macron re-elected (60%)
Traffic light coalition exploits loopholes to get around the constitutional debt brake (70%)
No recession in 2021 (90%)
Liz Cheney loses primary (80%)
Some version of USICA passes Congress (70%)
Lula elected president of Brazil (60%)
China officially abandons Covid Zero (70%)
Fewer U.S. Covid-19 deaths in 2022 than in 2020 (80%)
Additional booster shots of mRNA vaccines authorized for seniors (80%)
November 2022 year-on-year CPI growth is below 6% (70%)
November 2022 year-on-year CPI growth is above 4% (70%)
The Fed ends up doing more than its currently forecast three interest rate hikes (60%)
Russia does not invade Ukraine (60%)
Viktor Orbán loses power in Hungary (60%)
Sinn Fein becomes the largest party in the Northern Ireland assembly (60%)
The U.S. and Canada reach an agreement on softwood lumber (70%)
Democrats go down at least one governor on net (60%)
The unemployment rate stays between 4 and 5% (70%)
Here’s hoping I do better this year!
"No fun predictions" is a bad call! The reason to do fun ones is to keep yourself interested in the exercise and make it less painful to sit down and do. If you're worried about dragging down your calibration score, grade them separately.
One thing I realized reading this list is the challenge of calibration when the predictions are correlated. You got one major thing wrong, inflation, and it messed up a lot of questions. That, sort of by necessity means either you’re right or wrong about a lot of questions so you’ll look too over/under confident each year.
A reason to include “fun” questions is they tend to be uncorrelated and so help you track calibration better.