Interesting perspectives in this thread. Some of the themes seem to be "Risk vs. Reward", "Getting Paid what you're worth" and "The cream rises to the top"
I have been in Sales most of my career. Before Sales I was a science teacher. BTW, I don't believe teachers get paid nearly enough and that was one reason that drove me out of teaching. I have also owned and managed companies and have had to deal with what to pay someone.
Before I address some of those thoughts, I personally believe everyone is "Selling" something. Most often I see people getting looked over for raises and promotions because they didn't "sell" themselves to the right people. As stated in this thread, great Engineers tend to get promoted to higher paid positions, but only when they make sure that they are recognized. I have seen great Engineers never make it off the ground floor and mediocre Engineers rise much farther than they should because they made friends with the right people and made sure to take credit for everything that went right while blaming others when things went wrong. (OK, maybe an exaggeration here for dramatic effect, but you get the picture.) My own father was a mediocre Engineer that made it to Upper Management because he fought for it!
"Risk vs. Reward" this is very true. In fact, the highest paid salespeople (and the lowest paid people) are usually 100% commission types, like Real Estate and Multilevel Marketing positions. There is a saying that Salespeople are the best paid position (when they are selling) and the worst paid position (when they are not). I agree that tying some sort of bonus or compensation to the performance of the engineer would be great, but then would there be a risk of them trying to get onto the jobs that are going to be easier and more profitable, rather than fixing every problem with the same enthusiasm? I still think everyone is motivated by the opportunity to make more money though, even if it is the mere recognition that comes from the bonus. Risk value also shows up with Engineers that start their own company or patent their own ideas, such as Jobs and the like. Although, these people have to be great salespeople too. They would never get the funding or the support they need to succeed if they can't convince someone with money to invest into them either directly or by purchasing what they have to offer. There are many stories of companies with great ideas or technology that never get off the ground. I do not believe that a great product or service sells itself, unless there is NO competition and high visibility of the product/service and even then the product/service would have to be mind-numbingly simple to understand and have overwhelming value. Buying is emotionally driven in most cases. Very few people purchase anything purely through a logical and premeditated process. There is almost always an emotional response to something that brought them to purchase. That is where the salesperson, or sometimes a great marketing person, comes into play.
"Getting paid what you're worth" I agree that the market pays you what you are worth, but usually only when you ask for it or even demand it. If you don't believe you are getting paid enough, then ask for a raise, even demand it. You will usually get the raise if you are worth it to the company. If you are not, then you may be escorted out of the building... Risk vs. Reward again and selling yourself again! You should do your homework first though and put yourself on the market to see what other companies would be willing to pay you before you storm the castle. You may just find out that you are not worth what you thought you were.
"The cream rises to the top" I agree with this, but only if you demand respect and fight for what you are worth. A business will always look to get the most out of anything, a product, a service or an employee. Great managers and business owners usually reward talent and promote talent, but some reward the wrong behaviors. These types of managers and business owners typically run the business into the ground, so if you work for this type you might start thinking of looking for another company or department to work for.
I find that the people who complain about not getting paid enough are usually either not worth it or have no self-worth. If you are not worth it, recognize it and do something about it (educate yourself and create value, maybe take on the extra job or do the difficult stuff that no one else wants to do) and if you have no self-worth recognize that and do something about it (Read the self-help books and get away from others who might be bringing you down. Surround yourself with positive people and inspirational environments.)
The fact is that if you are the best at what you do and you demand to be paid what you are worth, then the market will find a way to pay you. Wayne Huizinga started with little education and a single Garbage Truck before building Waste Management and an empire.
Successful salespeople, however, ask for what they want all the time, are not afraid of risk, are super confident in their ability, make sure they are recognized, are persistent and driven and make friends with the right people. That is what they do and that is what the Capitalist, Free, Open Market rewards. If you want to make more money as an Engineer, an Office manager, an Accountant or a Janitor, do all of the things that a Salesperson does and sell yourself and your value to the company. You will be well on your way to making the money or getting the recognition that you deserve!
BTW, I am also the Salesperson who takes the Engineers and Operations staff out to lunch, brings Gatorades to the Installers, gives gifts and flowers to the receptionist, writes great testimonials and reviews of my superiors and "rewards" the people who refer and recommend me. I happen to be one of the top salespeople in my company, go figure?