The annual Human Freedom Index (HFI), published by US think tank the Cato Institute, presents the state of human freedom, defined as “the absence of coercive constraint”.
Covering 152 countries and based on data from 2012, the most recent available, the HFI is “the most comprehensive freedom index so far created for a globally meaningful set of countries”, according to Cato.
The index ranks countries on a scale of one to 10 in 76 indicators of personal, civil and economic freedom.
Topics covered include rule of law, religion, expression, freedom to trade internationally, business regulation and legal system.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hong Kong took the top spot with a score of 9.04, with Switzerland following closely behind on 8.80.
Switzerland scored highly in all categories, achieving a perfect 10 in the topics of movement (including freedom of foreign and domestic movement), relationships (including same-sex relationships) and religion.
It also scored highly (9.6) in expression and information, a category which includes media regulation and political pressure on media.
That's at odds with the World Freedom Index 2015, a press freedoms index published by Reporters Without Borders back in February, which saw Switzerland drop five places to 20th in the world.
The rest of the HFI top 10 comprised Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK and Sweden.
Germany placed 12th, the US 20th, France 33rd and Spain 37th.
According to the report, countries ranked in the top 25 percent enjoyed a significantly higher per capita income than lower ranked nations.
“The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy,” it added. “Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard.”
Founded in 1977, the Cato Institute describes itself as a public policy research organization dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.