New e-commerce rules: Whither evidence-based policy?

There is a lot of talk about evidence-based policymaking. It is usually discussed in the context of development programmes and the effectiveness of interventions. Frankly, evidence-based policymaking is the toughest to do in the development sector. There are just too many variables around.

The disproportionate focus on development sector as a platform to promote evidence-based policies is making us skip the obvious places where there is a scope for the use of evidence. The most recent example being the new e-commerce rules (clarifications) that prevent marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart to sell their own products on their platforms. One of the rationales behind such rule is that Amazon and Flipkart are resorting to predatory pricing.

Now, the allegation of predatory pricing is a very specific one. It can also be easily studied as compared to the development sector. One would expect some level of study to establish the predatory and unfair practices before bringing out regulations based on such claims. None of it was done in the e-commerce case! A mere assertion, probably based on anecdotes was good enough for coming out with such policy.

In summary, advocates of evidence-based policy should focus on the low hanging fruits first rather than exclusively on the messy development sector, where the is a question even on what constitutes evidence, leave aside the difficulties in collecting data and proving it.

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