The Night Byron Wien, in a Sparkly Red Vest, Urged Us to Buy Gold

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Photo: Dario Cantatore/Getty Images

As you might expect from a man who recently scared the bejesus out of everyone with an apocalyptic-sounding piece of commentary on the economy, Blackstone vice-chairman Byron Wien's speech at the New York Historical Society gala last night was pretty intense. “Our present financial challenges are probably more formidable than at any time in our history,” he told the crowd. "It took from 1789 to 2008 to accumulate $6 trillion in federal debt. It is only expected to take another six years to accumulate another $6 trillion. Right now, this looming threat is being masked by low interest rates, and it will not be ameliorated without patience, humility, and sacrifice."

But when we caught him offstage, clad in a sparkly red vest, the man once referred to as "the smartest man in Europe" seemed a little more chipper. “I don’t think we’re going to have a double dip," he said. "I think the economy is all right, not great, and I think we’re going to have a prolonged period of slow growth.”

So why was he going around talking about how all of the smart money was being invested in end-of-days things like "vacant office buildings, farmland, and Africa"? And in fact, why "Africa"? “Nobody else is looking at it," he shrugged. "You know, you make money by going where people are afraid to go," he said, leaving us with these (semi) reassuring words. “There’s not going to be an economic disaster. But you should own some gold.”