Jörg Guido Hülsmann writes,
[The Nobel Memorial] prize has usually been awarded to scholars specializing in applied mathematics, or applied psychology, or in the art of playing with statistical data that goes under the name of econometrics. Very rarely is it awarded to scholars who actually spend most of their time thinking about real-world economic problems, and almost never to anybody who has anything new and important and true to say about the real economy. It is true that many laureates were very well versed in economics, but even they did not, as a rule, obtain the prize for any contribution to that discipline.
Looking at this list, a quick calculation tells me that 76 percent of Nobel laureates have made theoretical contributions to economics (I might be off a few percentage points). I didn’t include economists who won the award for only (or mostly) empirical research or theoretical work in econometrics (and/or cliometrics). I also didn’t include Daniel Kahneman (behavioral economics), or Robert Merton and Myron Scholes. I did include, however, game theorists. Admittedly, Hülsmann does claim that almost none of these theoretical contributors have “anything new and important and true to say about the real economy,” but that’s easy to say without substantiation (he might have a case in some cases, however — Gérard Debreu?).
I do agree, though, that Mises deserves (or deserved, since the prize is not awarded posthumously) the Nobel Memorial Prize. But, rather than for his monetary theory, he deserves it for his contribution to the socialist calculation debate. I suspect this is the reason Paul A. Samuelson suggested Mises would have won the award had it existed earlier (see p. 358, ftn. # 358).
Related, I can’t recommend Hülsmann’s Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism enough.
Edit: I should clarify why I suggested someone like Debreu would be out of Hülsmann’s standards. I’m not saying Debreu didn’t make an important contribution. But, his work really does seem to fall under the category of “applied mathematics,” and I wonder just how much worse off economics would be without his work in proving general equilibrium. On the other hand, maybe I’m making the same mistake Hülsmann is, and not appreciating Debreu’s work for what it offers.