– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

LONDON, April 24 (Reuters) – Comparisons between the current downturn and the Great Contraction of 1929-33 have multiplied as commentators and investors have tried to forecast the recession’s likely depth and duration. But as the U.S. economy shows signs of stabilising and attention switches to future inflation the more useful comparison is actually with the 1940s.
The massive build up of highly liquid assets (cash and bank balances) during the Second World War is the closest parallel to the current escalation of bank reserves as a result of quantitative easing programmes in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The relatively modest pick up in consumer prices after the war ended may hold lessons for the outlook for inflation over the next five years.
There is a risk the commodity markets may have over-estimated the speed with which excess liquidity will be transformed into higher inflation and higher prices.
The outbreak of war was accompanied by an unprecedented build up of liquidity in the U.S. financial system. Deficit-financed spending on armaments and the war effort finally eliminated the persistent under-employment of the previous decade and ensured strong growth in corporate revenues and household incomes.
At the same time, households and firms had little opportunity to spend the money. The Federal Reserve imposed strict limits on consumer credit from September 1941 onwards. Consumer durables disappeared from the shops as the government first restricted then banned production of motor vehicles, refrigerators, washing machines and other electrical appliances for civilian use to conserve output capacity for the war effort.
The result was a massive increase in cash and bank balances. After having been flat for the previous 20 years, the amount of cash in circulation quadrupled from $6 billion to $25 billion between 1939 and 1945. Bank deposits more than doubled from $43 billion to $101 billion (    But while inflation rose when wartime price controls were lifted, the increase was nowhere near as much as expected given the massive overhang of liquidity which had built up.
To paraphrase Arthur Conan Doyle about the dog that did not bark at night time, the surprise was not that inflation rose so much after the war, but that it rose so little.
Consumer prices rose just 8 percent in 1946, 14 percent in 1947 and 8 percent in 1948, and actually declined in 1949 — and this was after the removal of extensive price controls that had limited increases for 5 years. There was no inflation outbreak.