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.
“From labor camps in North Korea, to political prisons in Cuba and Burma, university halls in Iran, coffeehouses in Venezuela, and other places, dissidents and reformers are seeking strength and support. When America stands for liberty, they take heart. When we do not, the dictators tighten their grip,” Mr. Bush said.
He announced several fellows for the institute, including the first “fellow in human freedom,” Oscar Morales Guevara. Mr. Guevara used Facebook to launch a movement called “One Million Voices Against the FARC,” the brutal leftist separatist movement in Colombia. A month later, more than 12 million people in 40 countries rallied against the network.
On global health, another key focus of the Bush administration, the former president named as fellow Mark Dybul, who was coordinator of the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief during the Bush years.
“It should affect the conscience of our country when a child goes hungry or dies needlessly from a mosquito bite,” Mr. Bush said. “America has a strategic interest in alleviating suffering, healing disease, and lifting societies out of despair. Hopeful, healthy, productive societies are less likely to be sources of violence and instability — and more likely to be partners in trade, prosperity, and peace.”
Former first lady Laura Bush will play a role as well, overseeing women’s initiatives and education, her pet issue during her tenure in the White House. With Sandy Kress, former chairman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, as the issue’s steward, the institute will seek to evaluate how best “to recruit, prepare, evaluate and reward” principals and administrators.
The presidential complex — at more than 200,000 square feet, second in size only to President Reagan’s library in Simi Valley, Ca. — will include an archives and museum. The archives will hold “four million photos; thousands of boxes of documents; and hundreds of millions of e-mails — not one of which was sent by me,” Mr. Bush said to laughter.
Also at the museum will be a replica of his Oval Office, a “Texas Rose Garden,” Mr. Bush said, and “the bullhorn I used in my first visit to Ground Zero” in New York three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Bush, who is writing his memoirs, due out next fall, seemed to enjoy the spotlight and, as a self-confessed C student, his return to college.
“It’s pretty exciting for a 63-year-old to be back on the college scene. I enjoy popping in on a class from time to time. Come to think of it, that was my strategy as a student,” he said to laughter.
His post-presidency has also provided some interesting opportunities, he said, including one offer “to be a greeter at Elliott’s Hardware.”