Italian Aspirin Extortion

From a New York Times article about Italy’s malaise:

Small proposals bring protesters to the streets, one hurdle to making changes as protected interests seek to preserve themselves. Pharmacists shut their doors this year when the government threatened to allow supermarkets to sell aspirin. The cost for just 20 aspirin tablets at a pharmacy is $5.75.

It’s not just Italy — this is a European phenomenon.  It seems more than outrageous for Italy’s pharmacists to insist on extorting such sums from their customers — especially in a country that, as the rest of the article makes clear, is sliding into poverty. There’s no real reason for pharmacists to exist anymore, except to control the distribution of genuinely dangerous or specialized drugs.  Yet European countries have all sorts of loopholes and subsidies that keep specialty pharmacist shops alive, and that give them monopolies on the distribution of harmless things everyone needs, such as aspirin. 

Now, I’m pretty sympathetic to the goal of these regulations, which seems to be to keep lots of small independent pharmacists in business.  A small businessman who runs a pharmacy likely has more pride and independence than some minimum-wage cashier in an anonymous drugstore chain.  But there has to be a much better way of achieving this goal than giving them a license to gouge their customers…