Since the early 1990s, the World Bank and Inter‐American Development Bank have led efforts advocating the use of economic tools in setting priorities for health spending in poor countries. But while these powerful global health institutions present economic management as the key to improving health, they often fail to implement even their own policies requiring the use of economic tools for health project planning. In these institutions, economic tools operate beyond application for decision‐making, becoming simultaneously a site of tensions regarding sovereignty and sites of enjoyment for economists at development bank headquarters. This article traces the ways that economic tools are both deployed and left aside across development bank networks, and in the process are productive of both affect and power. Attention to frictions in the use of economic tools ought to help motivate more just global health governance, taking into account political considerations that are built into expert practice.