All makers face this problem. Prices are determined by supply and demand, and there is just not as much demand for things that are fun to work on as there is for things that solve the mundane problems of individual customers. Acting in off-Broadway plays just doesn't pay as well as wearing a gorilla suit in someone's booth at a trade show. Writing novels doesn't pay as well as writing ad copy for garbage disposals. And hacking programming languages doesn't pay as well as figuring out how to connect some company's legacy database to their Web server.
I think the answer to this problem, in the case of software, is a concept known to nearly all makers: the day job. This phrase began with musicians, who perform at night. More generally, it means that you have one kind of work you do for money, and another for love.
Nearly all makers have day jobs early in their careers. Painters and writers notoriously do. If you're lucky you can get a day job that's closely related to your real work. Musicians often seem to work in record stores. A hacker working on some programming language or operating system might likewise be able to get a day job using it.
When I say that the answer is for hackers to have day jobs, and work on beautiful software on the side, I'm not proposing this as a new idea. This is what open-source hacking is all about. What I'm saying is that open-source is probably the right model, because it has been independently confirmed by all the other makers.
It seems surprising to me that any employer would be reluctant to let hackers work on open-source projects. At Viaweb, we would have been reluctant to hire anyone who didn't. When we interviewed programmers, the main thing we cared about was what kind of software they wrote in their spare time. You can't do anything really well unless you love it, and if you love to hack you'll inevitably be working on projects of your own.
I couldn't have said it any better.