Bush warns of threats to freedom, economic growth
Former President George W. Bush, outlining plans for a new public policy institute, on Thursday said America must fight the temptation to allow the federal government to take control of the private sector, declaring that too much government intervention will squelch economic recovery and expansion.
With the Obama administration establishing far-reaching controls in the auto, real estate and financial sectors, Mr. Bush said that “the role of government is not to create wealth, but to create the conditions that allow entrepreneurs and innovators to thrive.”
“As the world recovers, we will face a temptation to replace the risk-and-reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control. History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement, but too much,” said Mr. Bush, who has remained largely out of the limelight since leaving office and rarely criticizes his successor.
Delivering a speech on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, future home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the former president sought to explain his decision to have the federal government intervene at the beginning of the economic downturn last fall.
“I believe in the power of the free enterprise system, which made the decision I faced last fall one of the most difficult of my presidency. I went against my free market instincts and approved a temporary government intervention to unfreeze credit and prevent a global financial catastrophe,” he said.
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While many economists credit that early action with halting the economic freefall, Mr. Bush said the only answer to returning America to prosperity is to remove government controls on the private sector and continue to force open markets to U.S. goods.
“Trade has been one of the world’s most powerful engines of economic growth, and one of the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty. Yet a 60-year movement toward trade liberalization is under threat from creeping protectionism and isolationism,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush did not cite his successor by name, but many of his warnings seemed directed at policies Mr. Obama has embraced.
In one of his first major decisions on trade policy, Mr. Obama in September imposed a tariff on tire imports from China, making good on a campaign promise to the United Steelworkers union to “crack down” on imports that hurt American workers and industries.
In his speech, which set out his goals for a new policy institute focused on economic growth, education, human freedom and global health, Mr. Bush said he entered politics because “because I saw society drifting away from the values at the heart of the American Dream.”
“I pledged to govern based on principles that empower people to improve their lives and strengthen our nation,” Mr. Bush said. “I believe that free markets open the path to opportunity, that a successful society requires personal responsibility, that freedom is universal and transformative, and that every human life has dignity and value.”
The core of his new presidential complex — scheduled to open in 2013 — will be the George W. Bush Institute. The nonpartisan think tank will include scholars from around the world and advance Mr. Bush’s most dearly held effort as president — advancing human freedom.
“As I said in my second inaugural address, extending the reach of freedom ‘is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time,’ ” he told some 1,500 students, faculty, friends, community leaders and supporters.
He plans to continue to support political dissidents and reformers around the world, including those from many of the nations his administration shunned and which Mr. Obama has pledged to engage in dialogue.