A confident former President George W. Bush opened the George W. Bush Institute conference on the economy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas this week announcing that if he had it to do over, he would make the same vital decision he did while in office -- directing the so-called Wall Street bailout, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
"I can't prove that we were going to have an economic disaster; I can just tell you we didn't have one. And I have thought often about this decision. I will just tell you this: Had I had to make it again, I would make the same exact decision," Bush declared at the conference, which featured Nobel laureates, economists and corporate heads, all brought together to target ways to increase the nation's gross domestic product by 4% annually.
The George W. Bush presidential library is now under construction at SMU, the venue for the former chief executive’s first public remarks on the economy since leaving office.
The decision to establish the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the controversial program to buttress the nation's financial sector by allowing the government to take responsibility for $700 billion of distressed mortgages and other assets and equity from institutions, "contradicted the principles that I told the American people I stood upon, which is the markets are the best way to allocate goods, resources and services," Bush said. "And that decision was to use taxpayers' money to bail out Wall Street in order to make sure that we didn't have an economic disaster.”
"Look, presidents can't shape legacies. It's over. It's done. I made the decision," Bush declared. "The question now is -- are we going to learn from the decision. What are the causes of the financial near-disaster; will we unwind government intervention as quickly as possible, which we at the Bush center think ought to happen; and will we focus on growth and not regulation? This is what this conference is really about."
“People can spend their money better than government can," Bush said. "That irritated some of the sophisticates when I would say that, but the truth of the matter is that it is a cornerstone of a lot of debate that's going on in Washington, D.C., and frankly, it's going to be a part of what is discussed here today."
Bush lambasted those doomsayers that suggest that the United States is in a downward spiral.
"My attitude, and I think the attitude of most people here, is not only can we compete, we will compete. And not only that — we don't view the world as zero-sum, we view it as a great opportunity," he said. "We believe America is the most innovative, productive, entrepreneurial country in the history of the world, and we believe with the right policies and right attitude, we're forever going to be a great economic power for the good of the world."
James K. Glassman, executive director of the institute, said that since the 1950s, the U.S. economy has grown at an average of about 3.5 percent a year but that current projections are lower, according to an Associated Press report.
"Current projections by the Congressional Budget Office and many economists now call for a quick blip upward perhaps after the recession but long term sustainable GDP growth for the United States in the neighborhood of just 2.5 or 2 or even less," he said.
Glassman concluded that the targeted increase can't be "achieved overnight," but what's most important is to come up with ideas, especially ones that don't require Congress to pass laws.
About 240 people, including former members of the Bush administration, were on hand for Bush’s opening remarks.
∙ David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York, said a slowing labor force will challenge efforts to increase GDP growth. He said much of what would achieve faster growth, including opening America's doors to more immigrants, would require action by the government.
∙ Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas who moderated one of the conferences panels, said it's possible to grow at or near 4, adding that Texas is at 3.77 percent.
∙ Meg Whitman, the former CEO of online auctioneer eBay Inc. and Republican candidate for California governor who lost to Democrat Jerry Brown in the fall, opined: "It will not be easy, but we can do this. We can restore America's growth."
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