Zuckerman added that he detects in the Obama White House “hostility to the very kinds of [business] culture that have made this the great country that it is and was. I think we have to find some way of dealing with that or else we will do great damage to this country with a public policy that could ruin everything.”

Ferguson added: “The critical point is if your policy says you’re going run a trillion-dollar deficit for the rest of time, you’re riding for a fall…Then it really is goodbye.” A dashing Brit, Ferguson added: “Can I say that, having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it. It’s just not a lot of fun actually—decline.”

Ferguson called for what he called “radical” measures. “I can’t emphasize strongly enough the need for radical fiscal reform to restore the incentives for work and remove the incentives for idleness.” He praised “really radical reform of the sort that, for example, Paul Ryan [the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee] has outlined in his wonderful ‘Roadmap’ for radical, root-and-branch reform not only of the tax system but of the entitlement system” and “unleash entrepreneurial innovation.” Otherwise, Ferguson warned: “Do you want to be a kind of implicit part of the European Union? I’d advise you against it.”

This was greeted by hearty applause from a crowd that included Barbra Streisand and her husband James Brolin. “Depressing, but fantastic,” Streisand told me afterward, rendering her verdict on the session. “So exciting. Wonderful!