November 20, 2020
I thought it would be interesting to predict what will happen under the Biden presidency. I think making falsifiable predictions is important for improving our perceptions and predictions and holding ourselves accountable. There seems to be an epidemic of unfalsifiable predictions and assertions lately, and I think that may be either a symptom or a cause of what I perceive as a decrease in social trust and an increase in conspiracy theories.
Here are my predictions of what will happen in Biden’s first term. What do you think will happen? Feel free to copy some or all of these and make your own forecast and we can compare in four years. There’s a google spreadsheet at the end too that you can copy and use if that’s easier.
First a bit about how I’m doing the predictions. The Senate is still contested and Democrats could win control of it by winning both Georgia runoff seats. So the main percentage is my prediction with Republican control of the Senate. The number in parenthesis is my prediction if Democrats control the Senate. If there are no parenthesis I think it’s something that doesn’t depend on the Senate.
The closer to 0% or 100% the more confident I am, closer to 50% means less confidence. Sometimes percentage probabilities can be difficult to think about, so it can help to think about other ways, such as a 25% chance is in 1 in 4 and 10% chance is 1 in 10. There’s a way to score how you do on predictions that I’ll discuss at the end of the post.
= Biden has specifically proposed or advocated for this or an even larger version
= Biden has specifically said he won’t do this
No emoji means I’m not certain enough of his stance to say one way or the other.
95% - Rejoins the Paris agreement (counts even if not ratified by Senate)
0% (1%) - Bans fracking (defined as a direct blanket ban on all fracking)
20% (60%) - Implements a carbon tax
10% (65%) - Passes significant climate legislation (I’m defining as a climate bill including at least $500 billion invested in climate change mitigation and related areas)
5% - Implements a mask mandate (defined as one that’s legally enforceable or has a defined punishment. Still counts if later ruled unconstitutional)
95% - Implements a mask policy (one not federally enforceable, such as guidelines or incentives for states to implement mask mandates. Counts even if it’s referred to as a mandate but not actually required or enforceable)
85% (99%) - Passes a coronavirus relief bill providing $500 billion or more in relief and funding
35% (65%) - Pass a coronavirus relief bill providing over $1 trillion in relief and funding and including stimulus checks (one bill of this size would also satisfy previous question)
95% - Increases refugee admissions to about where they were before Trump (I’m defining as a cap of 80k or higher maintained over most of the term)
25% - Sets the refugee admissions cap to 200k or higher (about double Obama’s 2017 cap, maintained over at least one year)
5% (20%) - Creates a legal pathway to citizenship (defining as a law passed by congress that would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually become citizens after meeting certain criteria)
85% - Removes the travel ban (or Muslim ban) on more than half the countries currently barred from certain types of travel or immigration (archived link listing countries with prohibitions as of 11/19/2020: https://web.archive.org/web/20201119223419/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13780)
ECONOMY AND TRADE
80% - Decreases average tariffs on China
90% - Decreases average tariffs on Canada and other allies
10% (60%) - Raises the corporate income tax
90% - Raises the minimum wage for federal employees and contractors to $15 an hour or more
5% (40%) - Raises the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour or more
40% (35%) - Increases direct taxes on those making under $400,000 (I’m defining direct taxes as income, payroll, social security, etc. taxes paid directly by individuals, indirect taxes like an increase in the corporate tax resulting in lower wages or a carbon tax resulting in higher prices would not count)
20% (55%) - Passes a public option
0% (3%) - Passes Medicare for All (defined as a single payer healthcare plan that covers all or nearly all healthcare costs)
3% - Enters the US into a new authorized war (counts regardless of how it was initiated, a war authorized by Congress either directly or with funding)
15% - Enters the US into a new unauthorized war or conflict (US drone strikes or US soldiers performing combat operations would count, monetary support would not count, current example would be ongoing US activity in Yemen)
99% - Rejoins the WHO
75% - Rejoins the Iran nuclear deal
65% - Fewer US troops in Iraq at end of Biden’s term than at end of Trump’s term*
65% - Fewer US troops in Afghanistan at end of Biden’s first term than at end of Trump’s term*
*I’ll base troops at end of Trump’s term on his last order. If he orders a withdrawal that continues into Biden’s term it’ll be based on Trump’s last order.
30% (60%) - Decriminalizes marijuana at the Federal level (removes jail time as punishment for first time possession of small amounts of marijuana, no longer goes on record)
5% (15%) - Legalizes marijuana
5% (25%) - Eliminate the death penalty at the federal level (does not mandate elimination at state level)
5% (35%) - End mandatory minimum sentences at the Federal level
55% (80%) - Increase the child tax credit
20% (65%) - Increases or expands EITC benefits or EITC-like benefits (LIFT act or similar)
25% (70%) - Expands housing voucher funding or access to housing vouchers
30% (65%) - Cancels $100 billion or more in Federal student loans
15% (55%) - Makes public colleges tuition free for families with incomes less than $100,000
0% (5%) - Bans “assault weapons”
5% (30%) - Bans online sale of firearms or ammunition (counted as yes if either are banned)
10% (40%) - Pass legislation to require community development grant recipients to implement zoning reforms for less restrictive zoning to be eligible for the grant (HOME Act or similar)
30% (60%) - Pass a significant multi-year infrastructure bill (defined as at least $250 billion in surface transportation infrastructure funding over several years)
0% (25%) - The Senate filibuster is eliminated
OTHER UNRELATED TO BIDEN POLICIES
25% - Roe v. Wade overturned
10% - Harris replaces Biden before his term is up
1% - A state that went to Biden ends up going to Trump as a result of a recount or court decision
35% - Democrats win a majority in the Senate in 2020 (50 seats plus Harris as tiebreaker)
Why am I so uncertain on getting some of these things done even if Democrats win the Senate?
Because the filibuster exists and I think it’s unlikely Democrats get rid of it even with control of the Senate, which makes it very difficult for them to pass legislation they want to pass.
Why are some of these proposals less than what Biden has proposed, for example free college for families earning less than $100k instead of his $125k proposal or $500 billion for climate change instead of his $2 trillion proposal?
Because no president gets what they want and I wanted to set the bar for the question at something more plausible to make it interesting. If I set his free college income limit at $125k but the final bill ends up at $110k I think most people would consider that being a goal fulfilled for Biden, even though he didn’t get quite what he wanted.
Why did I pick these questions and issues?
Mostly I just focused on the bigger issues and things that will have a clear yes or no resolution. Biden has tons of pretty specific proposals on his website, so I just picked some of the biggest or most controversial to keep things simple and the ones I think will have the most attention on them during his term. I also picked a few that I’m interested in and want to follow. Predicting things is a good way to keep track of what happens with them, it gives you a bigger incentive to follow up on their outcome.
The most common way of scoring predictions is with the Brier score. The Brier score is a measure of the difference between your forecast and the outcome. Like golf, a lower score is better. It’s the difference between your forecast and reality squared. For example, if I predict a 70% chance that the sun rises tomorrow, and the sun does rise tomorrow, my Brier score would be (1 - 0.7)^2 + (0 - 0.3)^2 = 0.18. That equation represents my forecast of 70% that the sun rises minus the outcome of it rising (100%) plus my implied forecast of 30% that the sun doesn’t rise minus the outcome of it not rising (0%). A perfect Brier score is zero. The worst Brier score is 2. The Brier score of guessing at random (50%) is 0.5, so to be better than random guessing your Brier score should be below 0.5.
Note that there’s another way to calculate the above Brier score which would be (1 - 0.7)^2 = 0.09. This method leaves out the implied 30% chance the other thing happens. Under this method random guessing equates to a Brier score of 0.25. I’m using the first method instead of this one just to be consistent with the way I’m used to seeing it.
If you want to participate I made a google sheet you can copy and fill out your own percentages that will do the scoring for you. You could even modify it to forecast on other questions if you wanted to too. But you definitely don’t need to use this, it’s easy enough to score by hand. And using Brier scores isn’t really necessary either, it’s just a useful way to compare scores, you could always make predictions and just see how far off they were without using an actual score. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1_p_WArcp0RFRhVYbaKZgr38BlHOCc96ma4cgMqx_owg/edit?usp=sharing
So that’s that, if there are any big questions about his presidency you think I should add let me know! I encourage you to forecast some of these questions yourself either publicly or privately and see how you do four years from now.