Probability Estimates: 2024 – Commentary

2023-12-25 ~3300 words

I wanted to add some color to a few of my probability estimates. You may want to check those out first if you haven’t seen them.

Business & Tech

The S&P 500 closes the year higher than it began: 0.72

Dunno. It usually does, and almost all economic metrics right now seem strong. On the other hand, consumer sentiment is very negative, and there’s much more geopolitical risk than in past years: more trade wars and supply chain disruptions are very plausible. Overall, I trusted the economic indicators a bit more and am betting that consumer confidence will improve as high inflation fades.

The Fed raises interest rates at least once in 2024 (even if they also decrease rates): 0.4

I feel like this estimate is well above consensus view, but that consensus view also shifted pretty recently – from what I can tell – based on the last few inflation reports. It seems plausible to me that at some point in the year, due to inflation not falling as much as hoped (or even rising again), the Fed bumps rates.

Sam Altman is still the CEO of OpenAI at the end of 2024: 0.8

I think he definitively won the power struggle this year. Still, there’s some possibility of him (and the commercial parts of OpenAI) being absorbed into Microsoft proper for some reason, maybe for more capital investment or maybe to escape certain bounds of the charter. I also think there’s a low but not insignificant chance of another effort by AI doomers to unseat him, and they might bring outside powers (e.g. government) into play.

OpenAI releases (or allows a public preview of) a product branded “GPT-5” or “ChatGPT-5”: 0.65

I had a hard time with this one. I believe OpenAI made some statements about holding off on further model development until more safeguards were in place, but with the Sam Altman drama having resolved as a clear victory for the techno-optimists, I think the company is much more likely than not to push ahead. However, there’s a reasonable chance that even if GPT-5 happens, it’s under a different name, so this isn’t terribly high.

Business Divestitures (3)

  • Alphabet is ordered to divest a business unit, by federal court or commission: 0.15
  • Meta is ordered to divest a business unit, by federal court or commission: 0.1
  • Amazon is ordered to divest a business unit, by federal court or commission: 0.05

It’s generally pretty rare for US courts/commissions to break up existing companies, and I’m betting that they’ll be more conservative than some antitrust advocates believe is warranted.

The more interesting thing here is the relative probabalities within the group. I think that the monopoly power case is much stronger against Google (for search ads) and somewhat stronger against Facebook (some variation on ads) than against Amazon, which competes against many other retailers both physical online. Whether you think that’s the right market definition or not, I think US courts will use it.

The X/Twitter platform still exists at the end of the year: you can log in, share content, and view content: 0.85

This is a bet that things won’t change quite as much as we imagine, even in the most volatile big company on the planet. Some form of Twitter will be around in a year … probably.

Nvidia remains in the top 10 American companies by market cap at the end of 2024: 0.45

I don’t think Nvidia’s rise is entirely a blip, but it seems like part of it is due to supply constraints and big lead in AI tooling that (I imagine) is going to be copied by other GPU makers.

Tim Cook is still the CEO of Apple at the end of the year: 0.9

He’s 63, older for a tech CEO but not that old. Him announcing some sort of succession plan in 2023 seems plausible if unlikely, but that would still almost certainly be after the release of the Vision Pro (February/March) and would take at least a year. Beyond that, I can only see him being gone in a year due to a) health problems or b) the tiny possibility of a catastrophic, humiliating flop of the Vision Pro.

Andy Jassy is still the CEO of Amazon at the end of the year: 0.93

As an outsider, it’s not entirely clear how investors see Jassy. Amazon seems fine but doesn’t seem to be growing at the wild rates it did in the 2010s. I’m out over my skis here though, and I just don’t follow enough to have much opinion except that he does have the risk of Bezos wanting to come back at some point.


China lands ground forces on the island of Taiwan: 0.03

Arguing with a friend about this proposition is how the probability pool started. I thought the chance of an open military conflict was very low, but it was tough to put my finger on how low. One in ten was clearly too high. One in a hundred was too low. 5% felt abour right. Then this piece by Noah Smith convinced me that China would have to pick long, drawn-out fight with American military bases before ever getting troops onto the island of Taiwan, so I adjusted downward a bit.

Russia and Ukraine sign a truce to stop all combat operations and honor it until the end of the year: 0.65

I started at 30% but updated upward after the recent leak that Putin is open to negotiating a truce. There might be reasons for that beyond an actual openness to peace, and Ukraine might be determined to reclaim territory rather than negotiate, but I think this makes some end to the war a lot more likely than ever before. Exactly how likely was hard to say, but I think better than 50/50.

Nuclear weapons are used in an attack (not just tested) somewhere in the world: 0.1

This one felt especially difficult. There’s no example of nuclear weapons being used in recent history, but only a few situations where nuclear powers were in a level of conflict that made it plausible. How much can we draw from that, now that one nuclear power is trying to expand its borders in Europe and another is in a burgeoning cold war with the US?

Hard to say, but my 10% chance reflects the many different unlikely but possible situations: Putin could get desperate if Ukraine is on the verge of joining NATO, China could make a bold move against the West in advance of a Taiwan strike, the Gaza invasion could bring Israel into open conflict with other Arab states, or North Korea’s unstable leadership could launch a genuinely crazy attack at any time. 10% is a big number but I think we’re in an unusual era of Great Power conflict.

Xi Jinping is still the premier of China at the end of 2024: 0.98

He’s 70, older than you might think, but seems outwardly healthy and unwilling to cede power. China might have some internal problems but toppling the CCP would probably take years if it were to ever happen. To me, the only realistic way we see a China with Xi at the end of 2024 is because of a surprise health issue.

Vladimir Putin is still the president of Russia at the end of 2024: 0.85

This one is much like the above, except Putin is a year older, running a dramatically less powerful and less competent autocracy, and waging a poorly managed war that’s resulting in massive casualties to his citizens. I can imagine a coup taking out Putin much more than one taking out Xi. Still, probably not.

Vlodymyr Zelenskyy is still the president of Ukraine at the end of 2024: 0.8

His approval rating was still very high in the most recent survey, and it doesn’t even seem likely that Ukraine will be able to hold elections in the near future. The 20% comes from the potential for very bad outcomes for Ukraine in the war: losing the war entirely or Zelenskyy being killed or captured.

Narendra Modi is still the prime minister of India at the end of 2024: 0.9

I know less about Indian politics than Chinese, but Modi’s hold on India seems strong: he had a 73% approval rating last May. Unlike China though, India really is a democracy and my understanding is that the BJP is accused of ethnonationalist politics, so major internal conflict or simply a change in public opinion seems plausible. I don’t know enough on this topic, frankly, but 90% seems about right.

Benjamin Netanyahu is still the prime minister of Israel at the end of 2024: 0.65

National leaders tend to get a big popularity boost in times of crisis and war, but Netanyahu appeared to be in serious hot water less than six months ago. My guess is that he’ll survive as PM until the conclusion of major military activities in Gaza but not longer, especially since it seems like his handling of the situation isn’t well-regarded by the Israeli public. Will that get him to the end of 2024? I think slightly more likely than not.

Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is still the active pope at the end of 2024: 0.9

He’s 87 and has been pope for 10 years. His predecessor set a precedent by de facto retiring instead of dying “in office”, which I think makes it more likely that Francis might do the same (Benedict was 86 when he stepped down). However, Francis seems to be in much better health than Benedict was so I doubt he’ll step aside quite yet.

US Politics

US President (5)

  • Joe Biden is re-elected president: 0.53
  • Donald Trump is elected president: 0.42
  • A Democrat candidate who isn’t Joe Biden is elected president: 0.04
  • A Republican candidate who isn’t Donald Trump is elected president: 0.01
  • At least one third-party US presidential candidate gets 3% or more of the popular vote: 0.15

It’s not entirely clear, but it seems like much of Biden’s poor approval rating stems from economic issues. However, as I mentioned above in the stock market prediction, I think it’s very likely that consumer sentiment improves as we move further away from peak inflation (especially since other economic metrics are so strong).

So while I’d favor Trump in an election today, I think the combination of probable economic improvement, continued legal trouble for Trump, and some pivoting by the Biden administration will improve Democrats’ chances.

I can’t see a realistic way a non-Trump Republican wins the general. At this point, it seems impossible for him to lose the nomination even if he spent the election sitting in prison. On the other hand, party pressures or health issues are a real risk for Biden – the former especially if his approval rating doesn’t rebound at all.

As for a third party, it seems like the RFK Jr. buzz has died down. But I think there are a lot of politicians who could claim some role as a protest candidate against two very unpopular major party nominees, and a few (Manchin?) have plausible motivation to play spoiler.

The US president elect dies between the election and the end of 2024: 0.01

Biden would be 82, Trump would be 78. Neither has an acute health issue that we know about, but would it be that surprising if we heard either one had a heart attack or stroke?

The election is November 5, so a winner will probably be declared around November 8. That leaves just over 50 days – a seventh of a year.

The social security administration puts the statistical chance of death for an 80-year-old male at 6.5%. Both of these guys are in better-than-average health for 80-ish, but they’re also under an extremely unusual level of stress and exertion (which will be exacerbated by campaigning). I’ll say those factors roughly cancel out.

That leaves us with 1/7 of 6.5%, or about 1%1.

2024 elections give Democrats control of the Senate: 0.3

The Senate map for Democrats in 2024 is very bad. They’re probably going to lose.

But a few factors made me put this at 30%, not 10%. As I mentioned in the president section, I expect consumer sentiment to improve and I think the administration will shift its messaging a bit toward popular causes during campaign season, bolstering Democrats down ballot. Additionally, in any situation where Democrats get to 50 seats, they almost certainly would’ve also won the presidency – giving them the VP as a tiebreaker, and thus control.

2024 elections give Democrats control of the House of Representatives: 0.55

Looks close to a tossup right now, but for the same reasons I think Democrats’ presidential chances will improve, I think this map will look better for them when we’re closer to the election.

At least one member of the US Supreme Court steps down or dies during 2024: 0.2

The ages of the court members are: 75, 73, 69, 68, 63, 58, 56, 53, 51. No one is so old they’re likely to need to step down.

But there’s a small chance that pressure within the court could force Clarence Thomas out after a fair amount of reporting about impropriety, and Sotomayor could conceivably try to retire while Democrats have the presidency and Senate (since that probably won’t happen again for a while). Plus, among nine old-ish people, there’s a reasonable chance of a surprise medical issue.

President Jimmy Carter is still alive at the end of 2024: 0.005

Unfortunately, this doesn’t look good. He went into hospice back in February and his wife passed away recently. Making it to the end of the year is not impossible but it’s pretty close.

Donald Trump is convicted of a federal crime: 0.15

The mounting state-level issues for Trump has convinced me that there’s a genuine chance that federal courts could move speedily and convict. Not a high chance, but it seems like the evidence is stacked against Trump and courts are more willing to intervene in what they see as a clear violation of constitutional expectations. The Colorado ballot ruling reinforced that to me, even if it was a state-level case.

Joe Biden is impeached: 0.15

I was much lower on this until Republicans in the House unanimously approved an impeachment inquiry. Actually impeaching2 would likely be hugely unpopular and I’m sure GOP leaders will try to keep the caucus in line so they can avoid it, but the inquiry makes me think that the usual malcontents are wielding more power in the coalition than I’d have thought. This could happen, and it would really bolster Democrats’ election chances.

Sports & Culture

Mainstream news outlets report definitively that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce have broken up: 0.25

Uh… I have no idea. In researching this, I realized that my flip take on Taylor’s relationships (that they were all short and dramatic) was quite wrong; her previous relationship lasted 7 years. A recent long, stable relationship makes me more optimistic about this new one. That’s the extend of my knowledge, so I picked a number out of a hat and landed at 0.25.

Taylor Swift releases an album of composed primarily of entirely new music: 0.35

It’s always felt like Taylor is just churning out albums, but it turns out that her last release (not including all these re-release “Taylor’s Version” albums) was in October 2022. While that makes her cadence less impressive, it also means she’s due for another release.

However, I looked into it3 and it’s pretty unusual for artists to release a new album while touring. The Eras Tour will take her into December 2024, so there’s no way she could release an album this year without recording it during the tour. So I’ll guess that she won’t, but with a high level of uncertainty.

LeBron James retires from or otherwise leaves the NBA, and does not change his mind before the end of the year: 0.15

Before the NBA season, I would have put this at 25%. But LeBron’s in-season tournament performance convinced me that he has a lot left in the tank; he could probably sleepwalk through a season on any team in the league and then gear up for the playoffs, and still be a top 20 player in the league for four rounds. Despite mentioning retirement last year, I think it’s clear that he has no intention of retiring yet and would love to break (or extend) more counting-stat records.

Still, he’s 38 and the oldest player in the NBA. There are reasons beyond performance decline that players retire. The fatigue, along with the necessary routine to keep his body in shape, might just become too much. Plus you can’t ignore the chance of an acute injury that just wouldn’t be worth coming back from.

LeBron James and his son LeBron Jr (aka “Bronny”) are under contract with the same NBA team at any point during 2024: 0.2

This seemed very likely a few years ago, but it hasn’t come up nearly so much (including from LeBron himself) recently. Possibly Bronny wants to avoid the shadow of his father. He’s also pretty good, though not good enough to be considered a prize in the draft.

All things (including the potential retirement of LeBron) considered, I think this is unlikely but I can definitely see LeBron trying to engineer it behind the scenes if circumstances change.

Lionel Messi retires from or otherwise leaves the MLS, and does not change his mind before the end of the year: 0.3

He came to the US so he probably isn’t that interested in soccer anymore, right?

That’s kind of a joke but also kind of serious. I think if he were really committed to soccer at this point, he’d probably be playing elsewhere. So if an injury strikes or if he’s just tired of it, Messi might just call it quits. Or he might hate it here and leave for another league, though I think that’s less likely since apparently he got some kind of financial stake in American soccer TV rights.

The US wins the most gold medals of any country (or ties for first) in the Paris Olympics: 0.5

The US edged out China by a single gold back in 2020. No other countries were especially close though, so I think it’s reasonable to look at this as a tossup between the US and China.

The US wins the gold medal in basketball at the Paris Olympics: 0.85

They usually do, but it’s hard to get players to show up for international play (see this year’s FIBA team, that finished in fourth). Some star NBA players have made noises about playing in this Olympics, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Still, the US just has such basketball depth that they’ll probably win. But it’s very believable that they might not.

One of the three championship favorites (Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks) wins the 2024 NBA title: 0.8

The only other contenders are the Lakers, Suns, and Sixers (and maybe Clippers). But the most talented teams with the strongest track records usually figure it out, and this year there are three teams with great bona fides. 80% seems about right.

  1. Yes, probability nerds, I know that you can’t divide probabilities like this: if an event has a 7% chance of occuring a year then there’s more than a 1% chance of it happening in 1/7 of the year. But it’s pretty close with small numbers like this. ↩︎

  2. Just a reminder/clarification that this is about impeachment, which only requires the House. Conviction would require the Senate and it’s not even on this list of probabilities. ↩︎

  3. This is code for “I asked ChatGPT” ↩︎