I know people at Google who have a significant amount of autonomy (they work (or worked last time I checked) in the guts of the search engine and Android and on Google Wave).
Also a couple of guys at Yahoo working on Hadoop. Lots of startup founders (of course) who completely decide what to do.
Even a couple of teams at Intuit (which has to be the most manager heavy company in the whole world).
And people paid to work on Open Source projects have significant amounts of autonomy. Now that I think of it almost every developer I know who is not working on outsourced enterprise software seems to have significant (but not absolute) autonomy.
"do you think you know a representative sample of developers?"
I never claimed to. But hey those are the people I know, "representative sample" or not! You asked for examples of programmers with autonomy so I gave a few. As I was writing that, I discovered that except those working on outsourced enterprise sw, most developers I know do have significant autonomy.
Sorry if that didn't answer your question sufficiently. A "representative sample" developer in Bangalore (where I live these days) has a job screwing around with mountains of crap outsourced code no one in the West wants to touch with layer after layer of management wielding the whip and micromanaging him. No autonomy there!