My mother has always hoped that I would be a "public intellectual". While I have failed, many noteworthy academics at Harvard are willing to step up. In recent years, Harvard's scholars have provided many big ideas for which they made national news. Here are three famous examples;
1. Today, Ferguson on why Keynes was so focused on the short run.
2. Reinhart and Rogoff and the critical 90% debt ratio.
3. Larry Summers on women and hard math.
There are at least two interesting questions here. What is the socially optimal amount of provoking the populace? Second, does holding Harvard stationary cause excellent scholars to "cross the line" or does Harvard seek out and aggressively recruit scholars that are more likely to engage in this activity?
On the first point, in this age of Paul Krugman --- I feel that my friends at the University of Chicago have under invested in engaging with the public. John Cochrane and Casey Mulligan are writing strong blogs but Professor Krugman is winning the applause and the public debate as my Chicago friends are free riding and ducking stepping into Milton Friedman's large shoes.