Economic experiments, or attempts to shape national and local economies with the help of economic theory, have been typical of post-war development efforts. Economic sociologists have explored the role of such experiments to demonstrate how economics – as a set of practices, ideas and technologies – enacts its worlds. This paper examines one such case of high-powered economic theory and its enactment in an emergent West African oil economy by focusing on economist Jeffrey Sachs's advisory project in São Tomé and Príncipe. It pivots on the ‘resource curse’, an economic device that has recently gained purchase in global policy circles. This paper argues that economic devices are not simply imposed on pre-arranged worlds. Instead, they collide with and adjust to already existing politico-economic and socio-cultural conditions, resulting in complex articulations. Drawing on ethnographic material, I critique the ability of the resource curse to make sense fully of apprehensions of the past, present and future consequences of extractive industry developments. Contrasting economic accounts of an incipient curse with competing and complementary local accounts of the effects of oil wealth, I propose a new model for the sociological analysis of the variety of articulations into which an economic device, such as the curse, may enter.