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We don’t need to regulate dress codes to prevent thuggery

People going to fancy dress parties do it. The blogger Old Holborn does it. I am talking about face masks.

Face masks have been targeted as one of the things that the authorities may try to ban in the wake of the riots. Enforcing such a rule, even if it makes sense, strikes me as difficult. Perhaps the only way to interpret and enforce such a law would be to say that anyone wearing an item obscuring most of the face during a time of public disorder would be at risk of prosecution. (Wearing a ski mask should be illegal in the middle of a riot, but not on the slopes of Chamonix, for example). But again, how to decide when to impose the rule? Perhaps a public official, preferably a magistrate, has to read out what used to be called the riot act and after the reading of said act, anyone wearing a mask or suchlike is in trouble.

But it may not be so cut and dried as that, alas. There is the issue of public versus private space to consider. Owners of private property, such as shopping malls and the like, are entirely within their rights to insist that people entering the premises should show their faces, and comply with whatever codes of behaviour might be stipulated, however rational or otherwise, just as private members’ clubs and other places ought to be able to insist on dress codes, for example. Banks will typically insist that motorcyclists take off their helmets, if I recall correctly. (That makes perfect sense, for security reasons).

But as I know some regulars will ask, how does this ban on face masks apply to Muslim women who cover their faces behind a veil or other such form of costume? If such a person enters a shop, say, does this mean the police will now insist they show their faces? I’d like to see how that’s going to work. What about Islamist demonstrators against, say, military actions in the Mid-East? I cannot honestly see how the cops are going to successfully enforce a mask ban without a serious ruckus.

Like a lot of ideas that sound good to politicians in the heat of the moment, the notion of banning people from obscuring all or part of their faces is difficult as a general aim of the law, even if owners of private spaces are entitled, as they are, to make such demands. I can see all kinds of issues of interpretation coming up: what about a guy who wears a baseball cap with big sunglasses – is that illegal, or not? What counts as a “mask”? Surely, any law would need to consider the full context here, but it is not always obvious whether wearing a certain item signifies intent to avoid detection.

Instead of such silly measures, the government must focus its attention, as has been pointed out ad nauseam here, on the following areas:

–T ougher sentences for crimes of all kinds, including theft, which in far too many cases is treated as a minor matter. Such punishments must include restitution of the victim(s);
– Drastic cuts to welfare benefits combined with a big rise in tax thresholds at the bottom of the scale to make work pay. Even the dimmest thugs operate under some sort of cost/benefit analysis. Make work pay;
– Lowering the compulsory school-leaving age; change to labour market rules to encourage apprenticeships, vocational training;
– Allow people to use force in self defence, including firearms;
– Legalise (most) drugs. Yes, this is probably the most controversial idea, and maybe I would not enact this until the moral hazard-machine of the Welfare State has been seriously changed, but it is a key issue. If gangs don’t control the drugs trade, it undermines the gang culture more generally;
– Tax cuts more generally so that married spouses don’t feel under such pressure to both work to keep a decent income. This may also reinforce marriage and provide a better environment for children;
– Scrap the various quangos, race relations organisations and other tax-funded institutions that far from alleviating tensions, often inflame them by the manufacture of various grievances for classic bureaucratic empire-building reasons;
– Zero tolerance policing. Get some guys from New York over to London for some rapid tutorials.

I am sure there are more ideas on how to strengthen the family, encourage positive behaviours and deter bad ones, but it seems to me that trying to regulate dress codes in the streets is one of the most pointless unless the conditions can be very clearly defined in law and avoid arbitrariness. Not a good idea, Prime Minister. There are other, more urgent things to do, and time is short.

15 comments to We don’t need to regulate dress codes to prevent thuggery

  • Jaded Libertarian

    Regarding the libertarian self-defence agenda here, I have a suggestion.

    Don’t talk about guns. Don’t talk about tasers. Don’t even talk about pepper spray.

    As soon as you start weapons talk, lefties wet their pants and call you nasty – and then the debate is over.

    Instead what we need to push for is a castle doctrine here in the UK. People who enter your house without your permission (after being asked to leave) should have no protection under the law. The argument is philosophical and not practical.

    Once that is in place a liberalisation of the weapons laws is inevitable. However, if we focus on liberalising the gun laws themselves all we’ll end up with is legalised .22lr pistols requiring 14 references signed in blood and a sworn oath not to shoot any looters with it.

  • The dress-code thingy is just politicos “calling for” something, like each and every one does in the local papers every week. I can’t remember how many times John Pugh (limp-dem, Southport, but actually a sound and rather honest constituency MP) has been in the paper “calling for” something that’s going to cost more taxation in the end….

    It will probably not come to anything, hopefully, for all the reasons that JP proposes.

    As to weapons, at the moment it is difficult as Jaded-Libertarian says above, and most stuff is illegal. But if and when the time was to come when the “people” (remember them, watchers?) get too riled, the strange “disappearance” of villains that enter houses unauthorised would not perhaps attract much notice, since these people have no regard for themselves, others, or ordinary familial relationships, in many cases. I’m not advocating this as a good course of action, but it just may happen because people get fed up.

  • Roger Ritter

    You say, “Banks will typically insist that motorcyclists take off their helmets, if I recall correctly. (That makes perfect sense, for security reasons). ”

    Except that it doesn’t. The bank has no need for video records of their law-abiding customers, and anyone wearing the helmet in order to obscure their identity (in order to rob the bank, for instance) won’t remove the helmet no matter how politely you ask them. All this policy does is to harass their law-abiding customers while doing nothing to deter robbers.

  • Laird

    Not true, Roger. Someone who refuses to remove his helmet, after being asked politely, will either be denied admittance or, at a minimum, be scrutinized very closely at all times while in the establishment. The element of surprise will have been lost. He may still try to rob the bank, but the tellers’ feet will all be poised above the silent alarm buttons and at the first suspicious move the police will be alerted. In the US, at least, the police tend to respond very quickly to bank robberies.

  • Gib

    A “no masks” rule would be loved by Scientology, who are (or were) the subject of many protests by people wearing the “V for Vendetta” masks.

  • 1.

    Has no one heard of the Black Act? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Act

    My quick draft: “It shall be unlawful to appear on the public highway or on property belonging to any town, shire, or the crown, with the face obscured. This statute does not apply to protective headgear worn when and as required by law, or to protective or corrective lenses as long as the lenses cover only the eye and the orbit.”

  • dustydog

    I’m convinced that politicians get donations from drug dealers, enough to maintain the status quo.

    If the West were serious about drugs, the US Department of Agriculture would have whipped up a biological attack against poppy and cocoa. Wipe out the heroin trade, and the Taliban no longer has money to fight. Wipe out cocaine and dry up crime. Ok, maybe ‘whipped up’ is hyperbole, but $1 billion per year since 2011 surely would have been enough money and time.

  • Marissa

    Dustydog, the U.S. tried “wiping out” alcohol in the 1920′s during the Prohibition Era. It did not work and caused far more violence than it intended to solve. People are free to put whatever substances they wish in their bodies as long as they do not violate the rights of another. “Wiping out” people’s private property is unconscionable and immoral.

    As for the list, I like it all except tax benefits for married couples. This is absurd as all people deserve to have all of their rightfully earned money, not simply those who get their government-stamped relationship notarized.

  • Valerie

    Marissa, Prohibition caused violence insofar as the American La Cosa Nostra grew very rich from it, which started feuds between rivals, to which the police responded-not unlike drug gangs today. However, it also lowered the violence rate among those who would have likely beaten their (mostly) wives to death or to drink and drive, so the argument’s a wash that way. As a Libertarian principle, of course, it’s consistent. Roger; Please explain how law-abiding customers are harrassed by being expected to show their faces in a bank? As far as I know, muslim’s have their own banking system in the U.K., obviating the need for most to have to visit a “western” office.

  • Laird

    “However, it also lowered the violence rate among those who would have likely beaten their (mostly) wives to death or to drink and drive, so the argument’s a wash that way.”

    Pure speculation and, in my opinion, rank nonsense. The rapid growth and wealth of organized crime as a direct consequence of Prohibition is well documented and irrefutable. Conversely, if there would have been a rash of wife murders and drunken driving deaths absent Prohibition not only would have the statistics of the time shown it (they don’t), but those effects would have appeared immediately following Repeal. They didn’t, and they haven’t to this day. (Which is not to say that neither never occurs, merely that their incidence is extremely small.) It is absolutely nowhere close to being “a wash.”

  • Valerie

    Laird,
    It defies common sense to believe that the death rate among organized criminals and the police that fought them was higher than that of the general population affected by a lack, or surfeit of alcohol. I understand that from a Libertarian POV the policy was a failure on principle, but let’s not pretend that the law affected ordinary people in the same way as police, prosecuters and gangsters.

  • Laird

    Of course it did, because organaized crime directly and significantly affects “ordinary people”. You can’t just look at the death rates of criminals and police in shootouts; you have to consider all the ancillary effects of the massive growth of organized crime. Prior to Prohibition there was very little of it; as you yourself pointed out the American Cosa Nostra grew rich and powerful off it. And once that cancer has started it metastasized into all sorts of other areas, continuing long after Repeal.

    And in any event, there was no shortage of alcohol during Prohibition (any more than there is a shortage of illegal drugs today), so your hypothesized “wife-beating deaths” and drunken driving would not have abated under it. It was “ordinary people” who frequented the speakeasies. You are indulging in pure speculation in an attempt to justify an indefensible episode in our nation’s history.

  • Sunfish

    What Laird said.

    And, if we were serious about winning the War on Drugs, we’d repeal the Fourth and Tenth Amendments outright.

  • I understand that from a Libertarian POV the policy was a failure on principle, but let’s not pretend that the law affected ordinary people in the same way as police, prosecuters and gangsters.

    That’s the thing about those pesky things called ‘principles’: they have this rather annoying tendency to affect reality.

  • CaptDMO

    Perhaps the only way to interpret and enforce such a law would be to say that anyone wearing an item obscuring most of the head during a time of public disorder would be at risk of losing it.

    Fixed it…