Larry Kudlow

The single-biggest mistake in the Paulson bank-rescue-plan marketing effort has been the failure to explain clearly how taxpayers are going to recoup $700 billion used to buy toxic assets at auction in order to unfreeze the banking system. In other words, folks don’t understand how taxpayers will be paid back, and may actually make profits, which will enable the new government debt to be erased after the Treasury bank-rescue is completed.

Here’s the key point: Any loan package bought by the Treasury will be 100 percent taxpayer owned. Period.

Let’s walk through this hypothetical for a moment. Through a market-driven auction, the Treasury will purchase some dollar amount — say $100 billion — of loans that banks will sell. The Treasury will then buy those loans at the prices that fill the auction, starting with the lowest prices and working up. Now, the Treasury will hold those bonds either to maturity or for a sale in the open market if rising prices in the market make that sale attractive. In other words, suppose the Treasury buys a bond package at 20 cents on the dollar. They hold it for a while, and if market conditions improve, they sell it for 50 cents on the dollar to some buyer (e.g., an investment fund, a private-equity fund, a hedgie). The Treasury will make the sale at the higher price in order to gain a profit for taxpayers.

In the meantime, as the Treasury holds the loans, the government will get monthly cash-flows coming in on the mortgages, or on any other loans that it owns. So it is win-win for taxpayers. First, taxpayers get the cash flow generated by the assets. (Something like a 10 percent interest rate.) Second, if the loan is sold for profit, the taxpayers will own that profit. And the new law must of course stipulate that all the cash flows and/or profits go for debt-reduction to protect taxpayers.

I don’t think a lot of folks understand this win-win scenario. Let me repeat: The taxpayers own the bonds the Treasury buys; the taxpayers own the cash flows generated by the bonds; the taxpayers own the profits when the bonds are sold; and the taxpayers benefit when the profits and cash flows are used to pay-down government debt.

Actually, for taxpayers, it’s a win-win-win-win.

Think about this. The troubled assets purchased by the Treasury right now are likely to be very under-priced because of the chaotic and frozen market conditions. But over time, through monthly cash-flow payments or through loan sales, taxpayers will get all their money back and in great likelihood a handsome profit.

Larry Kudlow

Lawrence Kudlow is host of CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report,” which airs nightly from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.