Hong Kong's first free market think tank has come into life with the aim of bringing free market economics back into public consciousness. Called The Lion Rock Institute, it is named after the Lion Rock under which thousands of refugees from Communist China sheltered when they first arrived in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s.

"We aim to demonstrably change government policy and educate people on the benefits of a free market," says Andrew Work, executive director of the institute at its opening press conference at the end of last week in Hong Kong.

That Hong Kong needs such a think tank might come as a surprise to those who suppose Hong Kong to be one of the freest economies in the world. But according to the aptly named Work, Hong Kong is increasingly suffering from more and more government interference in the economy. Issues such as increased regulations, stock market waivers, subsidies to tycoons and increased deficit financing are all eroding Hong Kong's entrepreneurial spirit and free markets.

The Institute intends to further its aims through publishing policy papers as well as providing education, particularly to "teenage economic students whose studies are heavily influenced by Keynsian thinking" says Andrew Shuen Pak Man, the institute's research director, who describes himself as a "mujahedeen of the free market".

To coincide with its launch, the Institute has also created the LRI Free Market Index, a survey that it will send to all 162 candidates in the forthcoming legislative council elections that aims to assess where the candidates stand on free market principles. The survey consists of 16 questions on areas such as education, environment, the stock market and land use. The results of this survey will be published in the week leading up to the actual election in September.

"The results will allow people to see if they want to live under the heavy hand of government or the invisible hand of the market," says Work.

According to Shuen, The Lion Rock Institute is being funded by private donations from small and medium sized entrepreneurs who fear that the current government of Hong Kong does not create a level playing field and has skewed its policies in favour of the tycoons.

In coming months the institute will be producing specific reports on certain sectors such as healthcare and finance. However one policy the institute is already against is the mandatory provident fund of MPF, which, Shuen says, "distorts savings and consumption patters."

In general the institute will stand for open and free markets, property rights, small governments, low taxes and minimal business restrictions, all good things. However the founders stress that the institute will not be a forum for discussing the democratic structure (or lack of it) in Hong Kong.

For more information on the organization, readers can visit www.lionrockinstitute.org.