i have not ever collected cards or coins, so maybe i just don't know the feeling of having someone else deem my collectible the very best. maybe until i get that satisfaction, i will be happy with my own personal appraisal.
I agree with everything you said above, and I am anti-AFA for almost all intents and purposes except their authentication of things like DT sabers and vinyl cape Jawas. It does indeed force collectors with a smaller budget to either a.) have a much smaller pool of nice, affordable, ungraded carded figures to choose from, or b.) quit the hobby out of frustration. Thankfully with eBay, it's still possible to find nice dispayable carded figures, but if you're looking for pretty much flawless MOC figs, you're gonna pay out the ass. There are people over at Rebelscum who admit and indeed boast the fact that they paid 4-5 times over the usual going rate for a carded figure just with the hopes of sending it to AFA to get that elusive "90" grade.
As far as the comparison to coins though, there are literally trillions of coins out there, so the main graders like PCGS and NGC, while being popular among collectors of rare dates and gold coins, haven't drastically effected the market. There are plenty of coins out there turning up in estates all the time, ensuring a continuous supply. This isn't true with vintage MOC figures. What's out there now is pretty much what's always going to be out there, which is why I'm just as dismayed as you about people ripping open figures (and not always from trashed cards) to dash them off to AFA.
To summarize my thoughts concisely: **** AFA.