Bush Warns of 'Temptation' to Abandon Free-Market System in Wake of Recession

Former President George W. Bush on Thursday warned that Washington is in danger of taking the country away from free-market principles in the wake of the recession, as he defended his decision to approve a Wall Street bailout package in the final months of his term. 

The former president, who was outlining his vision for a policy institute to bear his name at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, warned that policymakers are taking government intervention too far in the wake of the rescue package -- though he specifically omitted naming policies like the $787 billion stimulus package, the appointment of a "pay czar" to monitor compensation and increased intervention in the U.S. auto industry. 

"As the world recovers, we're going to face a temptation to replace the risk-and-reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control," Bush said. "History shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement but too much."

Bush called his decision to back the $700 billion bank bailout one of the "most difficult" of his presidency. 

"I went against my free-market instincts," he said, explaining that he did so to unfreeze the credit markets and avoid a depression. 

The former president said the Bush Institute will keep economic growth and free-market principles as a focal point, along with issues like education, global health and "human freedom." 

"They are timeless ideals that inspired our nation's founders and they will guide all the work of the Bush Institute," he said. 

Looking tanned and rested, Bush made clear that he's kept plenty busy in the 10 months since leaving the White House

"I'm pleased to report there is life after the White House," Bush told the crowd. "We may be retired, but I'm not tired." 

The former president said he's been spending his time since leaving the White House working on his book, due out next fall, and keeping speaking engagements in several countries and states. 

But he said the focus of his attention is on the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which in addition to the president's library, museum and archives will now include the Bush Institute - becoming the first presidential library to house such an institute. 

Addressing the crowd, the former president was playful and self-effacing. 

"It is pretty exciting for a 63-year-old to be back on a college campus," he said. "I enjoy popping in on classes from time to time -- come to think of it, that was my strategy when I was a student." 

He noted that daughter Jenna had taken a job with NBC's "Today Show," joking that the job would continue "the Bush family tradition of warm relations with the press."