I personally really enjoy pirates. It makes me feel like my starbases are worth something (because a starbase + couple of hangers + repair bay) can hold off all but the very strongest pirate fleets (and then it will give you PLENTY of time to get your fleet back. usually only a capital ship or 2 will be enough to turn the balance just because of the mixed priorities when the pirates are trying to decide what to shoot)
Not to say that my starbases arn't worth anything normally. But like my homebase is very rarely attack because I plant a starbase just outside my homebase... pirates will run right past the one outside my homebase though, and hit up my capital (or whatever they plan to attack) and the home-base starbases that I load up with trading bays and stuff get to be something other than a really expensive trade port for more than just the early game. (and if I'm in trouble, and the other players actually do push back to my home-base.. which they do sometimes, my planet is well defended because I've built up anti-pirate protection over time)
I have encountered rage inducing moments where I want to scream because pirates seem to time their attacks with everytime I'm ready to push the offensive.
on the side note, you can fight to outbit AI players. They seem to always have spare cash early on, but later I tend to have more raw credits to spare (I usually abuse tradeports, so my credit to other resources tends to be on the heavy side, giving me plenty to spare)
Also, the pirate influence techs may not seem like a waste much, but they do make a difference, especially in 4+ player games because I've tested with auto saves if they actually effect enemy choices, and they do. Because they will delay attacks or defenses to planets (it you time your attack with a pirate raid)