Scott Alexander 2021 Predictions: Buy/Sell/Hold

Scott Alexander is out with his (late) 2021 predictions. You know what that means. It’s time to find things to disagree with!

Scott has the tough job here. He’s putting out a hundred plus predictions with probabilities attached. All I’m doing is saying where I definitely disagree with him. 

Epistemic Status: Writing this quickly and off the cuff seems more appropriate and fair. I’m going to explain my reasoning here while also not trying to do a bunch of research on these questions. In general, if something seems reasonable and say or imply that I’m holding, that’s not a strong ‘this is also my probability strongly held’ answer, it’s in the ballpark but likely weakly held. 

I have edited 2 predictions due to new information, they are explicitly noted.

US/WORLD

1. Biden approval rating (as per 538) is greater than 50%: 80%

Biden’s approval rating is clearly steady. There’s always some honeymoon effect, but it would take a surprising event to send it that far down. 80% seems like it’s in the ballpark. Hold.

2. Court packing is clearly going to happen (new justices don’t have to be appointed by end of year): 5%

Indeed do many things come to pass, and ‘clearly going to happen’ isn’t a clear definition. If this is ‘legislation expanding the size of the court has passed’ then this seems high to me because not only does it seem unlikely Biden gets 50 votes on this, it seems unlikely he’d get them this quickly with so much else on the agenda, but also they’re talking about it, Biden’s already gone gangbusters on giant bills and 5% isn’t that high. So I can’t disagree strongly. Hold.

3. Yang is New York mayor: 80%

Yang is only at 69% on PredictIt, although PredictIt tends to be too low on favorites in this range (although not enough to justify trading on its own). He’s ahead, but he’s prone to rather silly things and there’s plenty of time to mess up, so I think I’m with PredictIt on this and I’ll stick with 70%. Sell.

4. Newsom recalled as CA governor: 5%

Depending on what counts as ‘recalled’ this is either at least 10%, or it’s damn near 0%. I don’t see how you get 5%. Once you get an election going, anything can happen. Weird one, I’d need more research. 

5. At least $250 million in damage from BLM protests this year: 30%

With the verdict in, I don’t see what causes this kind of damage in the next 7 months. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but $250 million is a lot. I’m selling this down at least to 20%. Sell. 

6. Significant capital gains tax hike (above 30% for highest bracket): 20%

I don’t think you need to get to 30% to be significant, but that’s not the question. The question is how likely this is, which is asking how likely all 50 senators go along with it. Given there’s already been mention of specifically 29.6% as a Shilling point, I’m guessing 20% is about right. Hold.

7. Trump is allowed back on Twitter: 20%

I’m selling this to 10%. Why would Twitter do this? They’ve already paid the price they’re going to pay, and it’s not like Trump mellowed out.

8. Tokyo Olympics happen on schedule: 70%

I’m more at the Metaculus number of 80% provided slipping a few days doesn’t count as failing, I’m leaving it alone if a postponement of any length counts because random stuff does happen. I think Japan really, really wants this to happen and there’s no reason for it not to. Buy. 

9. Major flare-up (significantly worse than anything in past 5 years) in Russia/Ukraine war: 20%

It’s definitely a thing that can happen but there isn’t that much time involved, and the timing doesn’t seem attractive for any reason. I’ll sell to at least 15% on reasonable priors. 

10. Major flare-up (significantly worse than anything in past 10 years) in Israel/Palestine conflict: 5%

The last ten years have been unusually quiet here, so it arguably would take very little to count as a  major flare up here, but vagueness of what ‘major’ means makes it tough. With a tighter definition I might buy to 10%, if it’s wide enough maybe a little higher. Otherwise, hold.

11. Major flare-up (significantly worse than anything in past 50 years) in China/Taiwan conflict: 5%

Every war game of this situation I’ve read says that it’s a major disaster with no winners, even if China ‘wins,’ so it’s not in China’s interest to push on this, and it seems like it will have better spots in the future. 50 years is a long enough window that this has to be a shooting war. I do worry about this scenario but I think 5% is still high, and I’m selling to 3% if I’m truly risk-neutral. Given I’m very short China/Taiwan conflict due to being alive and liking nice things, I wouldn’t actually bet here, but worth noting my prior is lower. 

12. Netanyahu is still Israeli PM: 40%

This is the PredictIt line for him on 6/30, and Scott’s predicting this out to January 1. I’m guessing that he didn’t notice? Otherwise, given how many things can go wrong, it’s a rather large disagreement – those wacky Israelis have elections constantly. I’m going to sell this down to 30% even though I have system 1 intuitions he’s not going anywhere. Math is math. 

13. Prospera has at least 1000 residents: 30%

Hold/pass on the principle that Everything I Know About Prospera I Learned From Scott’s Article and he’s thought about this a ton more than I have. 

14. GME >$100 (Currently $170): 50%

That’s an interesting place to put the line. GME clearly has upside skew, where it could randomly go to $500 again, whereas it could easily retreat to a reasonable fundamentals price like $30, at least until it gets to sell stock and becomes more valuable for that reason. So what do we think about its chances here? Early in this whole thing I’d have said no way, but here we are three months later and it’s sticky, so how does one now apply Lindy to this phenomenon? If it hasn’t ended by now, why does it have to? So my honest answer is I have no idea, and 50% here seems at least sane, so I’m not going to touch it, but I should be very worried I’m anchored. Then again, I’m pretty sure I’d have sold anything substantially higher than this down to at least 60%, and bought up to at least 40%, so it’s the right ballpark I think?

 15. Bitcoin above 100K: 40%

16. Ethereum above 5K: 50%

Yearly reminder that this is absurdly bullish on crypto, because the bare minimum way to fufill these means crypto is fairly priced now. I’d sell Bitcoin down to 25%, Etherium down to 30%, and then hedge by buying both of them. 

17. Ethereum above 0.05 BTC: 70%

This is outright saying ETH is likely to outperform BTC, so this is Scott’s biggest f*** you to the efficient market hypothesis yet. I’m going to say he’s wrong and sell to 55%, since it’s currently 0.046, and if it was real I’d consider hedging with ETH.

18. Dow above 35K: 90%

19. …above 37.5K: 70%

It’s currently at 34K so saying it’s 90% to be up over the next 7 months is… complete insanity? It’s twice as likely to be between 35K and 37.5K than below 35K at all? Rather than give a probability, I’ll simply say I’m slamming the arbitrage. Sell the 90% a lot and buy index funds and/or options, ignore the 70% cause it’s not as good.

20. Unemployment above 5%: 40%

It’s currently officially 6% and presumably will fall with recovery. They’re pumping in a ton of money, and it was 4% before things got bad, but also a lot of people got a lot of money and there will be a lot of disruption and a lot of money illusion and grumbling. I’m guessing (very naively) that this isn’t going to happen that fast this reliably, and buying to 50%. 

21. Google widely allows remote work, no questions asked: 20%

EDITED VERSION 4/27: It turns out that Google has explicitly said they will not do this, which I didn’t know/remember and counts as missing information, so editing this to be very low. They might back down, but the announcement was recent (March 2021) so something would have to go very wrong to explicitly back down. I’ll go to 10% on reflection (my instinctive reaction was 5%) on the basis of there being some sort of new variant forcing their hand.

[Original version: I don’t know about the situation at Google but assuming they currently still do this I think it’s more likely than this that they keep doing it. If this is a blind prediction and Scott knows nothing I don’t know, I’d buy to 30%.] 

22. Starship reaches orbit: 60%

Yeah, no idea. Hold.

COVID

23. Fewer than 10K daily average official COVID cases in US in December 2021: 30%

This is a bad line. If we get things under control everywhere, it will be under 10K, and we’re vaccinating enough to get close to Israeli levels with plenty of time to spare. I’m buying this to 70%, and if someone tried to ‘take it away’ by buying it from me, I’m having none of it.

24. Fewer than 50K daily average COVID cases worldwide in December 2021: 1%

Yep, that’s right, hold. Not enough vaccines. 

25. Greater than 66% of US population vaccinated against COVID: 50%

It’s at 42% now. Israel stalled lower than this (in the 50s) so we might hit a wall that’s hard to break. I think we’re favorites so I’ll buy to 60%, but it could go either way. Note that because of children this will play a lot stronger than it might sound. 

26. India’s official case count is higher than US: 50%

Buy to 80% before I even start thinking, probably willing to go higher still on reflection. I’m confused how this got here. 

27. Vitamin D is generally not recognized (eg NICE, UpToDate) as effective COVID treatment: 70%

EDITED VERSION 4/27: I updated a lot on Scott being at 30% for this (e.g. 70% for this being recognized) in the original, and moved it to 50%. With Scott at 70% instead, we’re much closer, but I think I still want to nudge a little higher and buy this to 75%, instead of moving 30% to 50%. This is a sign of how much I’m reluctant to move a reasonable person’s odds in this type of exercise; if you’d asked me before seeing Scott’s number, I’d have said recognition is very unlikely, and put it at something like 85%-90%, and my true probability is still likely 80% or so.

[Original when I thought Scott had this reversed: Vitamin D is good and important, you should be taking it, but I’m skeptical that such sources will recognize this in the future if they haven’t done so by now. Conditional on (I haven’t checked) the sources that matter not having made this call yet, I’d sell it to 50%, while saying that I definitely would use it to treat Covid if I had the choice. ]

28. Something else not currently used becomes first-line treatment for COVID: 40%

I’ll sell this to 25%, people are slow to adapt to change even when it happens, assuming ‘not currently used’ means not used at all rather than not first-line.

29. Some new variant not currently known is greater than 25% of cases: 50%

Depends what we mean by ‘known’ and what counts as a fully new variant, but my guess is this should be higher. Probably buy it to 60%, given there’s still a lot of time for this to happen.

30. Some new variant where no existing vaccine is more than 50% effective: 40%

I assume this means versus infection only. If it’s versus death, slam the sell button even more. If it’s versus infection only, I’d still sell this down to 25%, assuming this has to apply to Moderna/Pfizer. 

31. US approves AstraZeneca vaccine: 20%

If it does happen it will be after it matters, since it already doesn’t matter, so I’m not sure why we would do it, but I don’t have a good model here. 20% seems low enough that I don’t want to go lower.

32. Most people I see in the local grocery store aren’t wearing a mask: 60%

Buy to 75%. Scott is in Berkeley, so I’m optimistic that the area will be sufficiently vaccinated to be very safe by year’s end. It then comes down to, just how crazy are all you people now that it’s over, and my guess is not this crazy all that often. But often enough that I’ve still got the one in four open.

COMMUNITY

33. Major rationalist org leaves Bay Area: 60%

I have private information, so recusing myself.

38. No new residents at our housing cluster: 40%

39. No current residents leave our housing cluster: 60%

My guess is Scott is going to be underconfident on this, and also that he’s not taking into account how late it is in the year, so I’m going to do the ‘blind bet’ thing and sell #38 to 35% and buy #39 to 65%, but not push it.

53. At least seven days my house is orange or worse on PurpleAir.com because of fires: 80%

Note that Scott is only saying he’s 50% to leave Berkeley for a month. I’m going to hold this but also point out that if you can’t breathe the air maybe it’s time to check out the air somewhere else. 

PERSONAL

60. There are no appraisal-related complications to the new house purchase: 50%

Buy to 60% based on what I’ve learned about appraisals, assuming complication means a meaningful one, and assuming Scott’s #61 prediction isn’t nuts. I won’t go further than this due to asymmetrical information disadvantage. 

61. I live in the new house: 95%

Sell to 90% on the ‘indeed to many things come to pass’ platform. Probably, but let’s not get too confident here.

62. I live in the top bedroom: 60%

Buy to 65% because this feels like a place where if Scott’s thinking it’s a favorite, it’s a bigger favorite than he thinks, but again information issues.

63. I can hear / get annoyed by neighbor TV noise: 40%

Sell to 30% but the fact that it’s here at all makes me wonder so I’ll stop there given information issues. I’ve literally never had this happen in a house, and also there are almost no TVs in Berkeley that are ever on in the first place, so I’d be curious to hear more. 

64. I’m playing in a D&D campaign: 70%

I’ll trust Scott on this one and hold.

65. I go on at least one international trip: 60%

I’m guessing this underestimates the number of things that can go wrong, but Scott seems too skeptical about pandemic outcomes, which cancels that out, so I’ll hold.

66. I spend at least a month living somewhere other than the Bay: 50%

I wonder how much this is based on the whole ‘PurpleAir says you literally can’t breathe the air’ issue, and how much is travelling, and without more information I don’t think I can get involved, so staying out. 

67. I continue my current exercise routine (and get through an entire cycle of it) in Q4 2021: 70%

People tend to be pretty overconfident in such matters, so I’m tempted to sell on general principles, but I do think the public prediction will help somewhat. I guess sell a tiny bit to 65% but keep it light.

68. I meditate at least 15 days in Q4 2021: 60%

69. I take oroxylum at least 5 times in Q4 2021: 40%

Don’t feel like I have a good enough handle here to do anything beyond hold.

70. I take some substance I haven’t discovered yet at least 5 times in Q4 2021 (testing exempted): 30%

That seems aggressive. Haven’t discovered yet seems a lot harsher than haven’t tried yet. I’ll sell to 25% but again, the prediction must have come from somewhere.

71. I do at least six new biohacking experiments in the next eight months: 40%

This seems like a lower bar to me by a lot than #70, so I’ll hold.

73. The Twitter account I check most frequently isn’t one of the five I check frequently now: 20%

I don’t think it’s that likely there will be a big new Twitter account at the top unless Scott is using Twitter for Covid a lot. Assuming his top 5 are mostly not that, I’ll sell this to 15%. 

74. I make/retweet at least 25 tweets between now and 2022: 70%

I think I bet against a similar thing last time and lost by a wide margin. My guess is this is if anything a little underconfident, since 25 is not that many, so maybe buy to 75%. 

WORK

75. Lorien has 100+ patients: 90%

76. 150+ patients: 20%

77. 200+ patients: 5%

78. I’ve written at least ten more Lorien writeups (so total at least 27): 30%

I’m somewhat sad that #78 is sitting so low, but I don’t feel like I have enough info to disagree with it. #75 is basically ‘does Lorien exist’ since there’s no way Scott either loses or fires his patients, but the 150+ and 200+ thresholds mean taking more, and I’m guessing that won’t happen. It does seem like 70% is a lot of space between 100-149 patients, so I’d probably split the difference and go to 85% and 25% to open up things a bit. The downside represents ‘Lorien experiment fails and Scott transitions to something else’ and the upside seems plausible too. I’ll also go to 10% on 200+ patients if ‘second doctor joins practice’ is a way to get there, hold if not. 

84. I have switched medical records systems: 20%

85. I have changed my pricing scheme: 20%

Switching EMRs is a bitch and 20% sounds like a lot, sell #84 to 15%. On the pricing scheme, that’s entirely dependent on how much Scott is willing to sacrifice to see it through, so if he says 20% I believe him. 

BLOG

86. ACX is earning more money than it is right now: 70%\

I have a hard time believing that ACX revenue won’t increase so long as ACX keeps up its quality and quantity levels. I’ll buy to 80%. 

90. There is another article primarily about SSC/ACX/me in a major news source: 10%

I’ll buy this to 25%. Scott’s interesting, his relationship to the press is interesting, there are a lot of major news sources, and also this prediction might give people ideas. 

91. I subscribe to at least 5 new Substacks (so total of 8): 20%

Substack costs can add up fast, so it seems reasonable that going to this many wouldn’t be that likely, but with a lot of revenue it makes sense to be in touch with the greater blogosphere. I’m going to buy this to 30%. 

92. I’ve read and reviewed How Asia Works: 90%

Cool. Presumably this means he’s mostly done, I’ll be comparing this to my own review. Hold.

93. I’ve read and reviewed Nixonland: 70%

Also cool, possible this causes me to read it. Hold.

94. I’ve read and reviewed Scout Mindset: 60%

Buy to 70%, it would be pretty weird for Scott not to review this but I have to update on it only being 60%. I plan to read and likely review it as well, once Covid dies down or I otherwise find the time. 

95. I’ve read and reviewed at least two more dictator books: 50%

Two is a lot here, so presumably this is important to Scott. I’ll sell it a bit down to 45% because two is tough, but mostly trust him. 

96. I’ve started and am at least 25% of the way through the formal editing process for Unsong: 30%

97. Unsong is published: 10%

The implication here is that it’s about the halfway point in difficulty to get a quarter of the way through editing (about 1/3 chance of each step). My understanding is that publishing delays are often very long, so unless he plans to self-publish, no way this happens in 2021, but I can totally see a self-publishing for Unsong, so I’ll leave these be because there are too many variables I don’t have a good handle on. 

98. I’ve written at least five chapters of some non-Unsong book I hope to publish: 40%

99. [redacted] wins the book review contest: 60%

There might be a best entry but these things seem more random than that? I’ll sell to 50%. 

100. I run an ACX reader survey: 50%

101. I run a normal ACX survey (must start, but not necessarily finish, before end of year): 90%

Not sure how these two can coexist, so going to wait them out pending clarifications if any. 

102. By end of year, some other post beats NYT commentary for my most popular post: 10%

I’m guessing such events are slightly less rare than this? But that was a really big event, so I’ll probably still hold.

103. I finish and post the culture wars essay I’m working on: 90%

104. I finish and post the climate change essay I’m working on: 80%

105. I finish and post the CO2 essay I’m working on: 80%

Good luck, sir, and may the odds be ever in your favor. I don’t think I’m in a position to second guess, if anything I’d be bullish on #104 and #105, maybe a little bearish on #103, but very small.

106. I have a queue of fewer than ten extra posts: 70%

Sell to 60% because if I was Scott I would totally end up with a much, much larger queue (and I do in fact have a truly gigantic one to the extent I have a queue at all).

META

107. I double my current amount of money ($1000) on PredictIt: 10%

#107 is all about how much Scott is willing to risk. You can make this at least 40% by ‘betting on black.’ So I can’t really say, but my guess is Scott messes around enough that this can be bought to 15%.

108. I post my scores on these predictions before 3/1/22: 70%

This is one of those weird full-control meta-predictions. I think Scott will be that much more likely to post in late February and I’ll bump it to 75%, but there’s a bunch of ways this can fail. 

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8 Responses to Scott Alexander 2021 Predictions: Buy/Sell/Hold

  1. thjread says:

    “27. Vitamin D is generally recognized (eg NICE, UpToDate) as effective COVID treatment: 70%”
    This one was a mistake, and Scott’s edited it to say NOT generally recognised now.

  2. TheZvi says:

    Also, to the manager of The Null Hypothesis: You’re welcome.

    • The Null Hypothesis says:

      Zvi – many thanks for a great season. You were top scorer in the league before Scott’s bets column came out. (Just counted the first 31 bets for him since “can i hear my neighbors TV” didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the exercise.). Your counter-bets are a great way to lose no ground in the pursuit of individual glory. Final week for the contest – and we will have a bet total hard to ever top. (<1% chance someone gets you & Scott on the same team again.). Your team could use a couple more steelmans before 4/30…. How much do you want to be on the team that wins the first FITs?

      The Null Hypothesis

  3. Freeasaprole says:

    For #18, are you just assuming random walk and impossibility of having special knowledge that is not already priced into the market? Maybe Scott is basing his prediction on specific factors that will influence the 2021 economy, such as a rebound from the effects of covid lockdowns.

    • TheZvi says:

      I’m saying 90% is an insanely bold probability claim here. I don’t believe in full random walk or anything close it to, but I don’t think one can trade the most liquid stuff in the world with that kind of confidence – or at a minimum, if you can, it’s time to start a heavily leveraged hedge fund.

  4. sheikheddy says:

    Does the current situation in Gaza count as a major flare up? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Israel%E2%80%93Palestine_crisis

    • TheZvi says:

      For these posts Scott is official grader. I’ve successfully appealed on rare occasions, but for this I trust him to decide. I don’t have an opinion on whether this should count.

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