Public Choice

, Volume 165, Issue 1–2, pp 79–96 | Cite as

Sovereignty as exchange of political property rights

  • Alexander William Salter


I develop a positive theory of sovereignty that is rooted in political exchange. The key concept I use to characterize sovereignty is self-enforcing exchange of political rights. I conclude that a sovereign is an individual or body party to political exchange that does not rest on third-party enforcement. Importantly, sovereignty is an emergent phenomenon, defined in the process of bargains between holders of political power. I describe how political bargains within and across polities influences the distribution of political rights characterized by sovereignty, and I conclude by showing how my conception of sovereignty is compatible with theoretical understanding, and practical existence, of polycentric governance.


Anarchy Catallaxy Constitutions Politics as exchange Polycentricity Sovereignty 

JEL Codes

B53 H1 H77 P5 



I would like to thank Vlad Tarko for his insightful comments on the nature of polycentricity and Vincent Ostrom’s project, which helped to improve this paper. I would also like to thank three anonymous referees for valuable feedback. Glenn Furton provided able research assistance. Any remaining errors are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rawls College of BusinessTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

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